Mumbai: As president and chief executive officer (CEO) of CitiFoundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of Citigroup, the deep-pocketed global financial services firm, Pamela P. Flaherty seems to have an easy job.
But, “it’s not an easy task to decide on the disbursements of grants,” demurs Flaherty. “Sometimes, people think it’s really easy to give money away, but to do it well is not easy. There is no set formula and one must make a judgement. It requires a lot of time and effort to do it.”
While Citi is about bringing in more revenues, it is also about making “a positive impact on the community of the world”, says Flaherty. “We are always striving to do both these things.”
Pamela Flaherty, president and CEO of CitiFoundation
Flaherty was in town, flat shoes and umbrella ready, to visit Swadhaar, an urban micro finance lending partner of Citibank in India. Micro finance is the business of lending small-ticket loans to people who do not have access to normal banking activities.
Micro finance, which started off as philanthropy for the Citigroup about 30 years ago, is today a separate business unit, structuring deals for the micro finance institutions to make best use of their resources, notes Flaherty.
In India, Citigroup has done two such deals for SKS Microfin Pvt. Ltd and Basix. In both deals, Citibank took over the risk of the loans from the books of the institutions. CitiFoundation isn’t involved in those deals.
The foundation has made 2,700 grants across 86 countries involving $93 million (Rs369.2 crore) in 2005-2006. India received about $3 million of that in the last financial year, part of some $11 million that has come here in the past decade or so through the foundation. Flaherty says there are three cornerstones of the foundation in India. “We have a leadership position in areas such as micro finance and micro entrepreneurship, education with a particular focus on financial and economic education and environment and climate change,” she notes.
India, according to her, “has a great track record not only in micro finance and micro entrepreneurship, but in financial education, which is the second major priority of the foundation.” The foundation also stresses on the preservation of the environment. In May, it announced a $50 billion commitment to lend and provide structured finance and spend on capital expenditures over 10 years around the theme of climate change.
In order to marry the best in micro finance and environmental protection, the foundation hosted a conference on micro finance and energy in Ahmedabad in August.
“We are constantly looking for synergies between financial literacy and micro finance expertise with an environmental angle and this was an obvious collaboration,” says Flaherty.
Some 50 participants from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the West Indies came with sustainable energy projects aimed at the poor.
Flaherty recalls one such project where a specialized solar lamp was designed for the use of midwives in remote corners of India. These lamps protect the midwives from snakebites as they walk in darkness visiting patients.
They can also be slung conveniently from ceiling of huts to enable the midwives to perform their task better in ample light.
“One of the great challenges is how to get clean energy to countries across the world where the demand and consumption is fast rising with increasing number of people moving out of poverty,” says Flaherty.