Why I give  —  and why you should

Q&A: Joe Hamilton shares what inspires his passion for financial inclusion and Accion

Joe meeting clients of KGFS, a subsidiary of Accion partner IFMR, in Tamil Nadu

Changing the financial system is hard work. At Accion, we’re fortunate to not only have a team that’s dedicated to building a more inclusive future but to have donors who share our drive and help make our work possible.

Joe Hamilton is one of these generous donors. He’s now retired from his position at Liberty Mutual leading their international strategy and expansion efforts, but he’s still making his mark on the world. I recently caught up with Joe to talk about why he supports Accion, what he’s seen on his global travels, and what every Millennial who wants to make a difference should know about donating their money.

Q: How did you first learn about Accion?

A: I had a vague notion of what microfinance was. I was looking to get involved in a few international not-for-profit organization in the Boston area, since I live here, and I wanted to not just to be involved as a donor but to also get involved with the organization. I have a degree in Latin American studies, and I’ve always been interested in that area and in Latin America development, so that’s part of what attracted me to Accion — that they had a long history in Latin America. I found out about the organization, began contributing, and got in touch with them — and it sort of evolved from there.

I’ve been more involved with what Accion does in India than with any other place, and I’m happy with that. I like India a great deal, and I think you’re doing a lot of extremely interesting work there. I’m happy to be involved in that effort, seeing what’s going on and supporting some of the activities too.

Q: Why do you support Accion?

A: Accion’s central mission is to find creative ways to help people help themselves — in particular, to help people improve their standard of living, to also do it in a way that gives them and treats them with dignity, and enables them to take more control over their own lives and find ways they can support themselves.

Joe inspecting machine used to manufacture shoes in Delhi.

Joe visiting shoe manufacturers supported by Aye Finance in Delhi

Q: I know you’ve done a lot of travel, particularly to India, and you’ve seen some of Accion’s portfolio partners there. Is there a particular visit that stands out, or a moment that inspires your support for the financial inclusion space?

A: Almost any of them, I would say. I can think of a couple of visits with people who received loans from Swadhaar and KGFS, where just hearing clients speak about what it means for them — to have that access to credit — and what they’ve been able to do with their lives, that have inspired my support of the financial inclusion space. Another very memorable visit was to a neighborhood in Delhi where Aye Finance provides credit to an interrelated cluster of producers involved in the manufacture of women’s shoes. The cluster involves all parts of the shoes, from design to soles to decoration. Aye’s lending enables this multi-religious, multi-ethnic neighborhood to flourish, supporting not just the local population but providing economic support for communities far from Delhi whose workers are involved in the trade.

Q: We’ve seen that when women in developing societies have more access to financial tools, it’s not just their immediate family that benefits but the whole local economy. Have you seen this effect firsthand?

A: Empowering women in societies where women don’t have a lot of rights or a lesser sort of social status, I think it gives them more self-respect and status within the community, and you can really tell that when you talk to some of them.

Having access to financial tools and participation in lending/savings groups enhances self-confidence and improves women’s standing in the community — within the household even. They believe they have the ability to take control of their own lives. That certainty passes on to the children — particularly if they have daughters — so I think that’s a very important set of benefits.

Q: What has inspired your desire to give back philanthropically and be involved in that arena?

A: Well I think it’s an obligation that we all have, so maybe it’s a sense that you have benefited from society you have a responsibility to give back. It’s logical to me to give back in areas that are related to what you have done during your career, and then better if it can also be coincident with your interests. My whole career is in international affairs and international business, so I’ve always been interested in finding ways to give back that is relevant to societies where I’ve been able to benefit. I think it just makes sense.

Q: Would you have any advice to the upcoming millennials who are about to be a significant economic force about engaging in the philanthropic space?

A: The earlier you can start giving, the better, and you don’t need to think that you are going to change the world alone.

I think you can do more good by supporting organizations that do good. They may not be perfect, and you may not believe in everything they do, but your giving ability isn’t enough to make much of an impact unless you’re supporting something much bigger — and it’s in combination with others that you can do more good.

Find organizations you believe in and support them.

It’s not about you saying, “I gave this money to build this school;” it’s more about what does my giving support that leads to greater systems and societal change.

Want to join Joe and Accion in driving social change? Donate today.

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