Lots of us want to change the world, but it seems like a big dream, right? For one University of Melbourne student, striking up a conversation on orientation day at uni was all it took to start. Before first year was through, Sophie Proud was already working in developing nations to improve people's livelihoods and earning potential. These are the benefits of getting involved with clubs and societies from day one!

University of Melbourne students have been making a positive social impact in the Asia-Pacific region for many years now, with the hope of empowering individuals to create social change. Sophie's experience started with a single conversation before classes had even started.

“At Orientation Week in my first year, I got chatting with a few MMI members and was inspired by their passion for consulting for social impact. I never thought that by the end of my first year of university, I would have had the chance to go overseas and work on a social impact project with MMI and really make a difference; it's still incredible to me,” she remembers.

What is MMI?

MMI - the Melbourne Microfinance Initiative - is a student society at the University of Melbourne with over 500 members. The society offers professional development opportunities to its student member base, who consult with microfinance organisations overseas.  This helps improve services and assist more people to climb out of poverty.

What is Microfinance?

Microfinance is a type of banking service that is provided to unemployed or low-income individuals or groups who would otherwise have no other means of accessing financial services. Ultimately, the goal of microfinance is to provide low-income earners with an opportunity to become self-sufficient by delivering means to save, borrow and take up insurance.

The Role of MMI

Many enterprise development institutions like JVOFI provide a microfinance service, but the people they help typically don’t get any assistance or guidance to improve their own services.

This is where the students of MMI step in. MMI, which mainly consists of Bachelor of Commerce students, sees students use their commerce and consulting skills to help enhance the work of the microfinance institutions they assist in a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific, ranging from the Philippines to Samoa and Vietnam.

The team (L-R): Jessica Lu, Sophie Proud, Alexandra McClintock and Isabella. (MMI)

The project that Proud, with Jessica Lu and fellow Bachelor of Commerce students Alexandra McClintock and Vesna Joshi as well as Bachelor of Arts student, Isabella Le, were assigned was to create a comprehensive training manual for all levels of micro finance staff at JVOFI. Despite having around 2,000 microfinance clients, prior to the team arriving, JVOFI had no official training program for new staff members. As demand for their services grew, the management noted an increase in discrepancies between staff knowledge on areas ranging from credit investigations to customer relations and decided that concrete processes needed to be implemented across the company.

It was a big task and not one that could be achieved quickly. In April, the group began by designing surveys to determine training set for each area of JVOFI. In July, they spent a week shadowing and conducting workshops with staff. The team presented JVOFI with a training manual based on their findings in October 2016.

Lu explains that their mission was to create a manual which would have a lasting impact, “We didn’t want to rush things or be culturally insensitive. For the small (roadside) stallholders that JVOFI assists, it definitely wouldn’t have worked to ask them to provide documentation similar to Australian accounting standards. We needed to tailor the advice to make it user-friendly and adaptable for their conditions.”

We’ve all got the potential to inspire change, and it’s not always obvious where to start. So don’t shy away from meeting people and striking up a conversation - even if you find it uncomfortable (here's the secret - just about everyone does at first). Go for it, because you never know where a simple conversation could take you.

Looking back, the team didn’t think they would achieve quite so much. “I’m really happy we could make a difference to JVOFI and people like Benedicta," Le said. "The extra-curricular opportunities at the University of Melbourne are so unique. If a positive social impact is what appeals to you, I’d definitely recommend joining MMI.”

Students from the University of Melbourne take yearly trips to the Asian region to offer guidance, support and consulting - a great way to impart newly gained knowledge and improve the lives of people in communities of need. Watch how the adventure unfolded for this lucky group of students in the Philippines.

Related Stories