This article was originally written and published by VEGA Member VSO International here.
Thousands of the people VSO works with are denied access to education, healthcare and opportunities for employment which prevents them from escaping poverty. VSO focuses on delivering lasting change in three areas: education, health and livelihoods. We aim to break the cycle of poverty and ensure that some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities have access to more responsive, equal and inclusive services.
Sandy Hung, 28, left behind a high-powered role in Canada managing millions for the super-wealthy to volunteer with disadvantaged businesswomen in Iringa, on the Tanzania Local Enterprise Development (T-LED) project. It’s improving chances for entrepreneurs in four districts on Tanzania by strengthening institutions and coaching small business owners.
The 13-year-old landlord
Sandy Hung knows financial management. Originally from Taiwan, she lived independently on the other side of the world to her parents from the age of nine. From the age of 13, she was letting a property for profit in Belize, the country where she spent ten years of her childhood.
She has always been fiercely independent both personally and financially, which put her in good stead first for a career in wealth management at a top bank, and now for her role as a VSO volunteer.
“I was not your average kid. But when I finally returned to Taiwan at 21, I told my dad I am thankful they sent me away. No one ever told me I couldn’t do things for myself. So now, when I want to do something, I am really resourceful,” explains Sandy.
That resourcefulness comes in handy on Sandy’s placement as financial management adviser on the T-LED programme in Iringa. The project is working with local government institutions to improve support for entrepreneurs and small business owners, with the ultimate aim of increasing community development, wealth and standard of living here.
Supporting hard-working people
More than a third of households in Tanzania get by on less than a dollar a day. If you want to make your own living here, you must first overcome the lack of available finance, poor access to technology and knowledge, as well as difficulty in finding a way of bringing your products and services to market.
“There’s a severe gap here in the market and in the community, definitely a huge need. The institutions I am supporting here are still using systems and styles from 20 years ago,” says Sandy.
Sandy’s year-long placement sees her and the T-LED team develop new routes to finance, support technological innovation as well acting as a “financial navigator” for entrepreneurs facing huge challenges:
“These are people who in this tough environment have managed to have a business; they’re pretty good. They know where they want to go, they just don’t know how they are going to get there.”
Sandy Hung is helping small business owners such as peanut butter processor, Celina Kisha in Iringa. Tanzania Mwanzo Millinga
Discrimination against women
T-LED aims for at least 40% of the entrepreneurs it supports to be women, who face additional challenges. Sandy, whose own teenage experiences have made her a passionate gender advocate, explains:
“Just finding enough women to make up that 40% is hard. Up until fairly recently, women in Tanzania could not own land so over centuries they have been starved of collateral.
“If you are married, your husband probably has final say in your decisions. So if you want to get finance for your business, your collateral belongs to your husband. That means you either have a very supportive husband, or you are screwed. It shouldn’t have to be that way.”
It’s a whole different world from Sandy’s former role. Sandy became a senior investment manager at the age of 26, and fought to gain the trust of extremely wealthy clients on whose behalf she would invest millions of dollars – an incredibly high pressure job.
A whole new world
“In my old life, my alarm was the daily Canadian financial news, starting at 6am with dooming stories about the market. Here, I am not working any less than before, but I am less stressed, working in a very different way.
“My mum says she feels from looking at my Facebook that I am never working, but maybe because that’s because I enjoy what I do,” she laughs.
One thing we all have in common
Whilst Sandy is dealing with businesses operating on a very different scale in Iringa, she says those experiences of operating with the wealthiest people in society have been priceless:
“My job, when you get down to it, was to build trust with people. I came to realise that no matter whether I am talking to a rich person with millions in assets, or someone with almost nothing, everyone is just a person.”
“The SME owners here are doing what they do for their kids, their family – the exact same reasons as the millionaires and billionaires I used to work for.”
If are you an experienced professional keen to share your skills and experience with people in Africa or Asia, learn more about how VSO will support you on this journey and apply to volunteer: https://www.vsointernational.org/volunteering/volunteering-pro