Banking on Compassion – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Banking on Compassion

During her time in Bangladesh, Seher Syed ’10 learned the ins and outs of social responsibility in the world of finance. 

An economics and international relations double major and a 2009 recipient of the Charles H. Salisbury Summer International Internship Stipend Award, Syed spent the summer in Dhaka interning at Grameen Bank, an institution founded by Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. The bank is known for its commitment to providing small loans known as microcredit to individuals in impoverished communities removing the need for collateral.  

In addition to having the opportunity to meet Yunus (pictured above with Syed), Syed completed a project focused on microfinance at the bank.

“My interest in microfinance developed when I interned at Kashf Foundation, which is a microfinance institution in Pakistan,” explained Syed.  “I was truly surprised at how small loans can have such a significant impact on the lives of poor people, especially women. As Kashf is inspired by the success of Grameen Bank, I really wanted to go to Bangladesh and see for myself how Grameen operates.”

Syed’s first few weeks at Grameen were spent working directly with Grameen Bank,  assisting with training programs offered to potential replications of the Grameen model throughout Asia. She also conducted exit client studies for Grameen within key areas of Bangladesh in order to determine client needs toward retention efforts. 

“I had a great experience at Grameen,” says Syed.  “The six weeks spent in Bangladesh were amazing. Not only did I get to experience firsthand how Grameen, and specifically microfinance works, but I also interacted with clients.”

Syed did significant travel in Bangladesh as part of her internship, which was funded through the Salisbury Summer International Internship Stipend.

“I got to observe how people are utilizing the loans to improve their lives,” she says.  “Due to the small loans, many of the women have started small businesses, which provide for their families and let their children go to school. The loans Grameen provides allow these women to become self sufficient so they are empowered and financially independent. After looking into the organization as a whole, I realized that Grameen is doing a lot more than just making small loans.”

In addition to working in the International Program Department, Syed had the opportunity to visit schools supported by Grameen. 

“Although Grameen is currently involved in several social businesses, my work mostly dealt with Grameen Danon, which provides nutritional dairy food to poor children in rural Bangladesh,” says Syed. 

While there, Syed talked with many children, who despite the conditions of the school (no electricity or chairs) were motivated to learn.

“What interested me the most was the concept of social business which Grameen has ventured into,” says Syed.  “As a student of economics, I had a very narrow concept of business which was limited to profit maximization. Thanks to Grameen, I have realized that business entrepreneurship can combine social objectives as part of its overall goals to create sustainable business practices. In shaping my career goals through the Salisbury Stipend, I have realized that despite what line of work I take on in the future, I should not forget my social responsibilities.”

The Salisbury Stipend, now in its third year, is one of the most ambitious internship programs in the Colleges’ history. Created by Honorary Trustee Charles H. Salisbury Jr. ’63, P’94, a former chairman of the HWS Board of Trustees, the fund provides financial support of up to $20,000 each for three students interested in pursuing an international internship experience in a location of the student’s choice.