Vanakkam (Hello) from Batticaloa (Batti), Sri Lanka (or, the region of the singing fish, as the locals call it)

I’m composing this post while sitting in a local bus that is winding through the roads of Batti, having just finished a field visit to view palmyrah tree products woven by local women. In the background, the bus is playing the latest Tamil movie songs and as one of my classmates bops his head to the music, I’m struck by how odd our collective nationality combination must look to the locals – a Japanese, an Italian, a Colombian, and myself, a Canadian-Tamil.

As part of the  Cambridge MBA, the 4 of us are completing a one month  Global Consulting Project. We’re working with a local not-for-profit organisation that is at a turning point in its own evolution. The organisation focuses on poverty alleviation activities targeted towards rural women who have been impacted by Sri Lanka’s 26 year civil war, as well as the devastating tsunami of 2004.

We are focusing on the organisation’s women’s self-help group program that runs a financial model called ASCA, Accumulating Savings & Credit Association. It uses a collected cash pool to provide loans to members. The cash pool and available loans accumulate as savings are made each week and are lent out to members. Through group discussion, the borrowers are selected based on degree of cash need and level of emergency. The organisation has been presented with new opportunities and we’re working on analysis and recommendations related to this.

While two members had been to Sri Lanka before, none of us had ever been to this particular region, located in the northeast, so we didn’t know what to expect. The experience with our client has been great so far – they’re not only open to sharing information with us, but also open-minded to our questions and suggestions as we move along this project.

What’s also been a positive experience is working with very adaptable classmates who don’t think twice about cramming into auto rickshaws and sitting in various creative positions as we travel across bumpy roads for lengthy periods of time, and who can learn to adapt to spicy food – even if Sri Lankans themselves assure us that in their opinion, it’s not that spicy!

And finally, this project is unique because other organisations and people have been both excited and encouraging of our desire to work here. In particular,  Cambridge Judge Business School, Newnham and Jesus colleges, and those who have only met us once, like Pinky Lilani, owner of Spice Magic, who connected us with others to support our project.