Lara Gidvani
MPA-PNP 2009

Regulatory Manager, Asia
GSMA Mobile Money for the Unbanked

Lara Gidvani just received her MPA with an International specialization from NYU Wagner this May. Fresh out of school and eager to return to her fledgling career in the field of financial access and poverty reduction, she is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. In one month she will report to her first day on the job at the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), a newly formed global network of policymakers in developing countries which is sponsored by the Gates Foundation and GTZ in Germany to "provide its members with the tools and resources to share, develop and implement their knowledge of cutting-edge financial inclusion policies that work." Gidvani will take on the role of Knowledge Manager for the network.

Managing knowledge and spreading information is a skill Gidvani honed at Wagner where she was a Research Assistant at the Financial Access Initiative and a co-president of the NYU Microfinance Initiative's Steering Committee. She came to the school after spending a year working at Swadhaar FinAccess, an urban microfinance institution in Mumbai, India. She received her BA in Economics and Political Science with a focus on International Development from McGill University in Montreal in 2006.

When asked what led her to AFI, Gidvani says she saw a job posting on Wagner's Career Services website and applied on a whim. "They were hiring for seven positions and I was under qualified for all of them, but I was writing so many cover letters and resumes I figured, what's one more? I might as well give it a shot." She aimed high, and as luck would have it, she made her mark. After two phone interviews, she was flown to Germany to meet the selection committee, where she and the other final candidate were interviewed together at the same time. " It was intense," she admits, when describing the process.

Gidvani was told she would be called later that day to be informed if she was the top choice. When the phone rang in the evening, her interviewers asked her to come in for medical testing the next day. Still unsure if she had the position, Gidvani underwent all the standard procedures and was informed of the health risks associated with working in Southeast Asia. It was not until after she returned home, when AFI called her the following week to discuss her start date, that she realized she was on the team.

The new small team will meet for the first time in Bangkok this summer and Gidvani is thrilled to be joining them. "I always saw myself as working on the ground in the microfinance" she admits, "and this is definitely a few steps removed from that." Nevertheless, Gidvani sees it as an opportunity to explore the broader field and she looks forward to "getting to know myself as well as getting to know the job." She knows the position will open "doors into policy work, if that's what I decide I want to do." Moreover, this job "definitely confirms I want to put my eggs in the financial inclusion basket," she states.

As thrilled as she is, Gidvani also knows there will be big steps to climb. "The job itself is going to be challenging. There are so many inputs that go into policy making and we're an external organization trying to influence that policy." No small feat, given that AFI will be working towards a goal of enabling 50 million additional people living on less than $2 a day to have access to savings accounts, insurance and other formal financial services by 2012.

Despite the challenges, Gidvani says she is "really excited to be helping to develop a strategy, rather than working as the implementer," which was the type of role she has played in the past. "I know it will be a really intellectually stimulating job," she says. "I don't think I'll have a moment to rest!" she adds, with the enthusiasm of a young woman ready to take on the world.