Ian Davis has no delusions about worldwide poverty. The third-year student began studying microfinance as a student at Brigham Young University. He nurtured the interest at Pepperdine, where he secured an internship with Grameen Bank in Bangladesh the summer after his first year. During that time he met the families who had been lifted out of poverty by small business loans. The following summer, he continued in the field as a law clerk for the Grameen Foundation in Washington, D.C.
An accomplished student, Davis is a fellow of the Geoffrey H. Palmer Center for Entrepreneurship and the Law and a lead articles editor for Pepperdine's Journal of Business, Entrepreneurship and the Law. In this interview, he tells why he works to serve the impoverished.
You've seen some of poorest people in the world. Was there one moment in your travels that was particularly difficult?
Seeing extreme poverty first-hand is the most difficult aspect of spending time in developing countries. One image sticks out in my mind of an 8-year old boy sitting by himself on a street corner. He had matted hair, barely any clothes, and one eye socket completely dried out. This boy is a vivid reminder that poverty is not just an abstract concept, but is a grueling reality for much of the world's population.
What first piqued your interest in microfinance?
I initially learned about microfinance as an undergraduate. I interned with the Microcredit Summit Campaign, where I gathered statistics from microfinance organizations throughout the world and became impressed with the level of success-measured by high repayment rates and number of clients crossing the poverty line-of many organizations.
Tell us about your experience as a legal intern with Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.
I researched the components of an effective legal framework for microfinance. Bangladesh had recently passed a law establishing a regulatory body within the Central Bank to oversee microfinance organizations. This was the first law of its kind in the world and established microfinance as an important pillar of the economic system in Bangladesh. I spent a good portion of my internship analyzing aspects of this law with Grameen Bank staff and Central Bank officials. The conclusions of this research are outlined in my paper to be published by Pepperdine's Journal of Business, Entrepreneurship and the Law, "Rural Finance: Designing an Effective Legal Framework for Microfinance."
The following summer, you interned with the Grameen Foundation in Washington, D.C. How did the American internship compare?
That was quite different from my experience in Bangladesh. I traveled to work on the metro instead of on a rickshaw. At work, I researched laws that govern the relationships between Grameen Foundation and its partners throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America; researched requirements for establishing a legal entity in several foreign countries; and dealt with a wide range of in-house tasks, from tax and IP issues to drafting contracts and board of directors' committee charters.
What has been the most rewarding part about working in microfinance?
Meeting the clients. It is inspiring to hear families explain how their lives have changed since their involvement with Grameen Bank. One mother explained that her family used to live in a mud hut and eat nothing but rice two times a day. Now, after years of repaying loans, she and her husband have a steady income, eat three meals a day, and are preparing to send their kids to college. Microfinance is an effective means of enabling families to lift themselves out of poverty.
What motivates you to continue in this field?
Two things make me want to continue in this field. First, meeting the people who make microfinance a success: poor, but strong-willed individuals who create businesses and work incredibly hard to rise out of poverty. Second, it is an exciting time to be involved with microfinance, as it attracts increased political and financial support and integrates with formal financial systems.
You have accepted an offer to work for the Grameen Foundation after graduation. What do you hope to accomplish in the next year?
I am excited to begin working as a staff attorney for the foundation. I hope to work on legal issues involved in establishing a microfinance equity fund--a fund that invests uniquely in microfinance institutions.