Wednesday, August 29, 2012

India #1 Why India?

I'm about to set off for India as a volunteer for ACCION International.  What's this all about?
My story begins 54 years ago when I had the privilege of traveling throughout sub-Sahara Africa for a summer with the president of my university, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C of Notre Dame.  For a kid who had never been on an airplane, let alone out of the country, it was a life-altering experience.  I came back strongly imbued with what later became the Peace Corps idea: young American should live in, learn from and contribute to the emerging countries of the world.
I didn't have to wait long to act on this idea.  After a stint in the army I enrolled in law school and there met another law student with the same idea, which he was pushing close to reality in Latin America.  I joined forces with Joe Blatchford and were joined by a third law student, Gary Glenn.  Soon we had a name--ACCION--and were recruiting the first cohort of volunteers for the barios of Venezuela.
I worked organzing ACCION for the remainder of law school and opened it's first office, in New York City, raising money, garnering publicity and recruiting more volunteers before beginning a career in public service with Idaho Senator Frank Church.  (I later joined Blatchford when he became Peace Corps director in l969 and we practiced law together beginning in 1980.) 
ACCION consumed three years of my life, which is not a long time, but what we started turned into gold.  In l973 in Recife, Brazil, ACCION pioneered the micro-finance idea:  small loans to poor people to start businesses.  Micro-finance has since grown to a world-wide cause, thriving in nearly every country and ACCION has played a major role throughout.  (It is the largest micro-lender in the U. S., for example.) 
So when ACCION celebrated its 50th anniversary in high fashion in New York City last October and honored the three founders, I was grateful my youthful idealism had taken such a marvelous turn.  Particularly impressive was ACCION's for-profit arm which in the last dozen years as raised investment capital and started new and often unlikely ventures, such as a fund in Inner Mongolia.
That night I learned about the ACCION Ambassador program through which volunteers spend serious time learning and writing about ACCION's work in the field.  ACCION no longer runs projects directly; rather it supports more than 30 indigenous organizations and it is to them that ambassadors are assigned.  (ACCION learned in its first years its about them, not us.)
So I asked myself, was I up for doing now, at age 76, what I had been unable to do after coming back from Africa in l958, at least for a couple months?  I decided I needed an adventure and applied. 
What were they going to do, say no to a founder?  Well, yes, they might.  After all, the typical ambassador is young, bi-or-tri-lingual and headed for a career in international development.  And I would need an English-speaking assignment, which meant Africa or India that somehow matched my life experience.
India has intrigued me for years.  How could it not?  India would immerse me into the leading edge of global development in all its excitement, chaos and environmental challenge.  After some back and forth, I accepted an assignment in Bengaluru known to us as Bangalore, India's IT and outsourcing mecca which has exploded from a small, leafy retirement city to a metropolis of 7.5 million.  
After three months of reading, endless to-do lists, some training and a lot of nervous fussing, next Sunday, a few minutes before midnight, I will step onto Indian soil for the first time.  After a short night's sleep I'll be up early for the wedding of an ACCION staffer on Monday.  My 77 day adventure will at last be under way.  I hope you will tag along through this blog. 


  1. Jerry 0

    Thanks for the brief history of ACCION and the context for your trip. You've made an impact! Thanks too for the blog. I'm looking forward to hearing how the adventure unfolds, and your perspectives. Good luck and safe travels!
    blase reardon

  2. Congratulations Jerry for what will be sure to be an impactful journey. I hope that it opens your eyes not just to new experiences of the world, but also to new experiences of yourself. And find some good salsa while you are at it!

    Suete amigo,
    Curt Bowen