The Difference Between Us and Poor People - Sunday, Nov 8, 2015
Joyce Bontrager Lehman, MEDA Board member and Technical Advisor, Global Financial Inclusion
Joyce Bontrager Lehman has been working in international economic development for the past 16 years, currently as an independent advisor with a focus on increasing access to financial services for the billions of unbanked people in developing countries. Previously at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation she managing a grant portfolio that funded projects throughout the developing world, including funding to support mobile payment platforms in South Asia. Her development work career began with the MEDA Consulting Group in 1999; from 2004 through 2007, she spent most of her time in Afghanistan working with the World Bank, USAID and other bi-lateral donors to establish and support a microfinance sector.
While she admits to having been invited to join other boards, she acknowledges MEDA's "is the one I felt was most closely aligned with my own work and passion. I also like the way MEDA staff involves the board in the field projects or MEDA investments as appropriate." She is now on the board of MiCredito, a microfinance institution in Nicaragua that's partially owned by MEDA and MEDA members.
"The business approach to poverty encourages, even demands, innovation and flexibility in project design. Things change quickly in the industry and MEDA has been good at responding to new priorities...if I didn't love and believe in what the organization is doing, I wouldn't be able to support it."
While hard to pick a favorite memory, Joyce shares that she'll never forget the first microcredit client she visited in Managua in 1998. She recalls being so impressed at how an illiterate woman knew both the CHISPA (a MEDA-supported microcredit program) loan terms and how much additional daily income she was able to make by using the $75 loan to purchase four months of firewood for her tortilla stand in bulk instead of every day. "The increase in income was enough to permit her to send one of her boys to school and also to buy fruits and vegetables so her family could have a more nutritional diet. Illiteracy does not imply incompetence."
Living in New Hampshire, Joyce has two adult children who live on the west coast – one in Seattle and one in Portland, Oregon. She loves to travel, especially to places she hasn't been before, and had a wonderful experience with MEDA president Allan Sauder on the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb in July 2014.