Elliot Bounader and IE’s Finance students during the Microfinance trip in Ghana

Interview done by Marta García Morera, Associate Director of Admissions, IE Business School. Article edited by Viet Ha Tran.

Elliot Bounader, alumnus of the Master in Finance at IE Business School 2016/2017, was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon where he completed his high school degree while the host for a radio show for one of the largest radio stations in Lebanon. He later moved to Canada in 2008 to seek higher education and complete his Bachelor in Commerce from Concordia University, specializing in Finance and Strategic Management. Being a geek at heart, and having built his first computer from scratch at the age of 13, pushed him to learn and dive deep into the world of software development. Aside from being a financier, Elliot is a self-taught developer who aims to combine his financial acumen with the homegrown software skills to create next generation financial-technology. He has also been trading stocks and cryptocurrencies on his account for the better part of the last 4 years. During his time at IE completing the Master in Finance (MIF), and aside from his involvement in the Ghana project, Elliot was a Coordinator at the IE Entrepreneurship Club and an Analyst at Fundie – the social impact venture capital fund out of IE. It was during his time at the Entrepreneurship Club that he was one of the organizers of the Startup Weekend at Area 31 of IE Business School. Currently, Elliot is a data scientist and financial analyst at a leading Fintech start-up in Montreal.

We spoke with Elliot the other day about his experience with the Ghana trip which was one of the the main reasons for him to come to study the Master in Finance at IE – the practical approach of the teaching/learning methodology that shows the students how the knowledge they gain during program is applied to reality.

“Having seen how dedicated and motivated the communities in Ghana are on surviving, and moving above the poverty line is really touching. The poor are the real entrepreneurs. They, daily, must find a way to feed themselves and their children. In terms of the Ghana project at IE, the value of microfinance was highly evident. It has helped thousands among thousands to build their dreams and educate their children.”

Which program did you do at IE and why did you choose to do it?

I completed the Masters in Finance (MIF) program at IE, concentrating on Corporate Finance. The reason I chose this program was to further build my technical skills in finance in an environment with applied practice rather than focusing solely on theory. IE was the probably the only school to incorporate such a practical approach to education and it being my primary choice also highly depended on the experiences, trips and networking opportunities offered as part of the program.

What made you decide to join the microfinance trip in Ghana?

Actually, I chose IE mainly because of the microfinance program. Having the opportunity to be part of such an experience where the final results of your findings and recommendations could highly benefit an organization in Africa already impacting thousands of lives daily was an immense value proposition for me. Aside from the social impact, I wanted to gain further exposure to microfinance and its inner workings. We are unable to see its value and impact until we visit the countries in which it has been most evident and successful. I hope one day, to replicate the same success of Microfinance back home in the middle east, where it is much less evident but much needed.

What is the microfinance trip all about?

The microfinance trip starts with some exploration of Ghana. Moving from the city to the rural areas, where most microfinance institutions are situated. During these trips inside Ghana, you realize how communities are living, how much strife the country is going through and the divide between the city center – Accra – and the rural areas. After arriving to the designated area, we then spend a few days on site at the institution, meeting with board members, officers and team members. Getting to know them personally before anything else was a priority to a successful engagement. We then discuss the nature of the organization, their efforts, strengths, weaknesses and obstacles. Then, the members of the organization spent a day touring us around the communities they serve. Being in touch with those communities was the highlight of the trip. It is where you are able to understand first hand how microfinance has helped these individuals and micro-entrepreneurs reach their goals and alleviate themselves from poverty.

Who else went on the trip with you? (were you all from the MIF or were you mixed with other programs?)

All the individuals on the trip were from various finance programs at IE. So, joining us we had the executive master in finance along with our mentors and organizers. It was great to have fellow students from the executive master holding north of 15-20 years of experience along with us on the trip.

What were your first thoughts upon landing in Ghana?

From the moment you land at the airport, you immediately are taken by how different it truly is. It is nothing from what you would expect. The capital Accra, is pretty developed. Proper roads, good infrastructure and a beautiful city center. Once we were on the way to the institutions and their communities, the story changed. You directly notice the disparity in how people live and try to survive. It was that moment where the true Ghana experience had begun.

What was it like living in Ghana?

It was just an amazing and one-of-a-kind experience. Aside from taking the necessary precautions in terms of food, water, and clothing, it was relatively comfortable living in Ghana and adapting to the surroundings and culture. The country itself is just beautiful. The people are among the most genuine and happy people I have encountered. Ghana is considered to be one of the more developed countries relative to its region, and it does truly try to push itself forward and advance as much as it can within its means. This is very evident in the city center especially. I would definitely take the opportunity again to go to Ghana. There is so much to see and experience, and it truly is one of a kind.

What was your most memorable moment during the trip?

I think the most memorable moment was during our trip to one of the clients of our microfinance institution. Our team surrounded by a group of 35 women, almost all above the age of 65, working and managing a shea-butter factory. It was so impressive to see the motivation, dedication and ambition of each of these women. They started as 3 partners with barely anything to get going. With the help of the institution, they were able to buy inventory, increase their production and staff and exponentially grow. Now they export most of their products to the world-renowned cosmetics company “The Body Shop”. What they were able to accomplish was astonishing.

What was your biggest learning from the trip?

The biggest learning from the trip was a great shift in perspective. Having seen how dedicated and motivated the communities are on surviving, and moving above the poverty line is really touching. The poor are the real entrepreneurs. They, daily, must find a way to feed themselves and their children. In terms of the project, the value of microfinance was highly evident. It has helped thousands among thousands to build their dreams and educate their children. On a personal level, the learnings were highly valuable to me. Gratitude and humility were the principal feelings I left Ghana with.

What advice future students who want to embark on this journey?

Do not hesitate to take the trip. Expect to be very positively surprised and overwhelmed. Have an open mind and an equally open heart. Take the necessary precautions, but don’t fear whatever predispositions you have towards Africa. Make the best out of it when you are at the institution and touring the country. Make a personal connection with the individuals there before anything. You will discover that you will learn from them more than you imagine. If you get the chance, spend some time with the kids in the communities, they are just amazing.