I was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area and Colorado. I’ve been a traveler for as long as I can remember, although most of my early adventures were in national parks and included hiking, camping and orienteering rather than museums or far-flung international locales. My father was a cultural geographer and amateur cartographer (and my best friend), which helped instill in me an early fascination with maps, the globe, and the notion that “the world that is bigger than my own backyard.”
I headed out east for college, to Emory University, where I double-majored in International Relations (focusing on international political economy) and Italian and minored in Art History. An extraordinary year was spent as a visiting student at University College in Oxford, England, where I followed self-created courses in garden architecture and European identity. Summers at this time were spent mostly in Europe, traversing the Italian peninsula, researching family roots in Finland, and getting into mischief in random pockets like Portugal, the Greek islands and Iceland.
After graduation and working with the Italian delegation to the Olympic Games in Atlanta, I returned to Italy on a Fulbright Scholarship. This experience left me determined to continue living, working and traveling abroad until I was ready for grad school (and knew what I wanted to do there). Little did I know that the ensuing three years would change my life forever… and thus I fortuitously proceeded to spend half of each year researching and guiding hiking and biking trips for Butterfield & Robinson, and the other half of the year globetrotting. My work and travels during this time took me throughout Europe, Central and South America, India, Southeast and East Asia and North Africa.
This was also the phase in which I began to write travelogues — “April’s Notes from the Road” — and to share them with friends and family via email. This was the late 1990s so just before blogging, though I still wonder whether I would have actively picked up the craze then; at the time I was focused on a smaller community, and honestly not very confident in my abilities (writing, traveling or otherwise). Whatever the case I’m now stuck with hundreds of pages of travelogues documenting myriad adventures, misadventures, cultural-social-economic-political-geographic-community-development observations and commentary from the African Sahara to the Nordic tundra to the Andean cordillera. As I re-post these Notes to this blog over time, keep in mind they were written from the perspective of an early-20-something, blond, freckled, small, pale woman (often mistaken for a girl) who considered it great fun to hang out with local families (as happened in Poland and Laos), and much less fun to be held up at gunpoint (as happened in Bolivia). I can’t say I would have written the same things in the same way today!
It was during this period that I began to take note of microfinance, even though that term was not often used; I usually explain it as “living and observing microfinance in action before knowing what it was called.” Contributing to the local economy, interacting with small-scale entrepreneurs, traveling mindfully, seeing the need and room for improvement in the lives of women and their families, and — perhaps most of all — seeing the potential for meaningful linkages between the “developed” and “developing” worlds (neither term I find accurate). By the time I decided to return to grad school, international economic development and policy work was at the top of my professional wish list — though I was far less clear on how such a career would actually be executed.
In 2000 I returned to the U.S. to do a joint degree in law and international development finance. Four years later, I graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and an M.A. in International Finance from The Fletcher School. By this time I had also worked at Women’s World Banking in New York City and at private law firms in London and Washington DC, and I was keenly aware of the overlap between microfinance and law (especially international transactional practice areas) and the dearth of attorneys interested in and knowledgeable about the microfinance sector. I determined then to work towards bringing those two communities closer together, an overarching goal that has remained with me to this day.
In 2004 after spending several months exploring South America — from Peru to Paraguay to Patagonia — I arrived in London to begin “piecing together the law-and-microfinance puzzle” in greater earnest. I figured this would take some time to gain traction and was prepared to be patient. This was somewhat true, but happily not for long. Thanks to the openness and support of Allen & Overy LLP and my robust relationships in the microfinance sector, I was soon working with Morgan Stanley on the groundbreaking Blue Orchard Loans for Development (BOLD) transaction. I found myself back in South America doing due diligence on MFIs, drafting documents and liaising with local counsel in the 22 (!!) jurisdictions in which the deal took place. It was an exhilarating experience and bolstered my opinion that the international law-and-microfinance communities demanded further expansion.
Following BOLD and travels to Ireland, Egypt, Sardinia, Turkey and beyond, in 2006 I finally returned “home” to San Francisco. Part of my rationale for this move was to leverage my travel and microfinance-related experiences abroad in the innovative and entrepreneurial environment of the Bay Area (which also has a strong and growing microfinance community already in place). I joined another international law firm, O’Melveny & Myers and took up the charge of developing in-house microfinance expertise and transactional pro bono opportunities. Thanks again to firmwide support of these efforts, before long my colleagues and I were working with a broad variety of microfinance-related clients including MicroCredit Enterprises, The Dignity Fund, Calvert Foundation, Grameen Foundation, Freedom From Hunger, International Development Law Organization (IDLO), Kiva, Planet Finance and other commercial banks and microfinance investment funds.
Towards the end of 2007 I left law firm life to join Unitus as Director of Venture Development. In this role I supported the legal and strategic needs of the global Unitus family of initiatives including Unitus Capital (UC), Unitus Investment Group (UIG), expansion in Africa and a variety of non-profit and commercially-oriented microfinance issues.
In June 2009 I was offered a unique opportunity to go “beyond microfinance” and joined Water.org as Director of WaterCredit, which is an innovative initiative that puts microfinance tools to work in the water and sanitation (watsan, or WASH) sector. Water has been an interest of mine for some time — given climate change, geopolitics, and the most basic needs of the BoP — and this role allows me to directly apply my microfinance background to serve additional communities around the world. Although many water organizations and MFIs have acknowledged the vast potential of “H2OMF,” very few have developed significant in-house expertise that bridges both fields. I seek to help change that trend by developing WaterCredit’s global strategy and linking venture philanthropists, impact investors, MFIs, watsan experts and other stakeholders committed to achieving the day when everyone in the world can take a safe drink of water.
From 2007-2010 I also had the good fortune to collaborate with the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and its law-and-microfinance course series; this program took me to China, Mexico, India, Romania, Tanzania, Jordan and Italy to teach lawyers, policy-makers and MFI executives from those regions about the legal and regulatory aspects of international microfinance investment. The course series also developed an “alumni network” of microfinance practitioners, many of whom have also become friends. I will remain forever grateful to the IDLO microfinance team for pulling together such an astounding and unique community throughout the developing world.
Alongside my day job, I am a member of the U.S. Board of Directors of the World Wide Web Foundation, the Advisory Board of the Harvard Law and International Development Society (LIDS) and advise various social enterprises. In 2011 I was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. For more information about my professional background, please check my LinkedIn profile.
Although for me personal and professional often happily mix, I do have interests far beyond microfinance and water. Most of all, I try to spend as much time outdoors and traveling as possible. I am an avid runner (though no more marathons), hiker, cyclist and kayaker. I also enjoy photography and my pictures have been exhibited in various locales; some favorite general shots and a sampling of early pictures from China are available online, along with my more recent Flickr albums. I am lucky to have traveled to 49 of the 50 United States (missing Hawaii) and 79 foreign countries to date. My last adventure-trip was to Nepal (November-December 2010), where I went on a multi-week trek in the Himalaya. Top places on my travel wish list now include Cuba, New Zealand and Namibia. At this point I really do believe the world IS my backyard…