The Heart of Financial Inclusion
We interviewed Prabhat Labh, who’s been The MasterCard Foundation representative to MicroLead for the last four years. Our interview template is a modified Proust Questionnaire (with apologies to Vanity Fair and Proust).
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My most blissful moments are spending time with my family – my daughter, wife, siblings – and you talk and chat and eat and worry about nothing.
What is your greatest fear?
I worry about one day, I suddenly die without getting the opportunity to tell the people I love and care about - how much I care and love them. Dying is not the fear – the fear is not having the chance to tell them. What also worries me is how little I know, compared to how much I need to know, and that people around me will figure out how little I know!
What living person do you most admire?
I have several, but one couple stands out – individually and as a couple, Bill and Melinda Gates are exceptional. Bill Gates put computing power in the hands of people and businesses and changed the world. Subsequently, Bill and Melinda Gates reminded the world that with enormous wealth, comes enormous responsibility, which they reinvested back into society to make the world a better place. Together, their achievements and dedication make them exceptional.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
So many things! I have an eight-year-old daughter, and sometimes, I become impatient with her too soon, and every time I do that I hate myself. She’s eight going on nine and is so much better than I was at her age. These are things they don’t teach in school – how to be a good father, partner, son.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
I can’t stand it when somebody is dishonest with me. I can accept mistakes, I can forgive mistakes. But when somebody is not honest with me, it’s hard for me to deal with that person.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I wish I had the resources to be extravagant! One thing where I do spend a lot of money is travel. Each individual trip may not be so extravagant – we don’t travel first class. But it adds up. For example, we’re leaving Canada and realized we’d never seen the northern lights. The best place to see them is Yellow Knife, which is ten thousand km round trip, and still we went. It was amazing, even at minus 32 degrees centigrade.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
One has to relate achievements in terms of where you start off from. I started from a small place in India, not even a town, with nondescript schools and education. The first time I traveled on an airplane, I was 27 years old. But now I’ve traveled to around 35 countries. But I don’t count my achievements in terms of number of countries, I count it in terms of the number of people and organizations I get to interact with. In terms of ability to travel and do these amazing things, those I really value. One thing I really value was at the MCF, the foundation allowed me to help expand access to savings for low-income people. I’m thankful for that opportunity.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
There are so many things I could be. The sun gives an incredible amount of energy to everything and gives out energy endlessly without getting anything back. In terms of people, to be born as a person who not only has the resources to be able to make a difference but also the right attitude and humility and wisdom. But that combination is quite elusive.
What is your most treasured possession?
My daughter draws, and in some of her sketches she has drawn images of her and me playing in the garden, or in the snow. Those are really treasured possessions.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Not caring about the affairs around us. So many people around the world can’t eat. There are children who are dying. Children who are hungry. People who don’t have shelter or food, and we know that. We have, as a world, all the resources we need in order to act. And yet, there are many millions of people who don’t even have the basic needs to survive. That reflects badly on the miserliness of the society around us.
Which talent would you most like to have?
If given the chance, I’d like to have much greater ability to remember – things, people, interactions, and what I read.
What is your motto?
Make this world a better place in whatever little ways I can, to encourage people around me to get engaged.
What did you appreciate most about the MicroLead project?
So many things about MicroLead stand out. But the most remarkable thing is that in the MicroLead program, the objective was to reach low-income populations in rural areas, primarily women. We knew what the barriers were – distance, knowledge, attitude and trust. We knew pricing and affordability were barriers. But we didn’t really have solutions. And the ways the MicroLead program tried to address that challenge and learn from that is phenomenal. As a result, we’ve identified several pathways to promoting savings services to low-income rural women.
I will be back in India after almost nine years living abroad, heading to the Grameen Foundation in India as CEO. I’ve never been in a CEO role before so there’ll be a steep learning curve for me. But what I’m most excited about is that Grameen is a fantastic organization with colleagues and staff who are really passionate about their work.
Grameen in Bangladesh was the first organization which proved the poor don’t need your charity – they can be entrepreneurs and benefit from a loan, and they value their dignity and decision making as much as everyone else. And Grameen Foundation builds on that around the world.
In India, we are in an exciting stage, where we have a dynamic private sector and an engaged government. The big challenge for me is to see how we can be relevant in that environment and add value, benefiting the lives of the poor while working in partnership with other organizations.
MicroLead is a UNCDF-managed global initiative challenging regulated FSPs to develop and roll-out deposit services which respond to the rural vacuum of services. With the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The MasterCard Foundation and the LIFT Fund in Myanmar, MicroLead works with a variety of FSPs and technical service providers to reach rural markets, particularly women, with demand-driven, responsibly priced products offered via alternative delivery channels such as rural agents, mobile phones, roving agents, point of sales devices and group linkages. This is combined with financial education, so customers not only have access but can effectively use quality services.
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