Growing up in Buenos Aires, Giulia Debernardin (BS '12) passed the same slum on each drive to her grandmother's house, but it wasn’t until she got to college that she really noticed it. By that time, Giulia and her family were living in Racine, and she was enrolled at UW-Madison. "In college, I became aware of the differences between Argentina and the U.S.," she said. On a visit home, "I began seriously looking at that slum, with its tin-roofed shacks, piles of garbage and starving kids, and the unfairness of it all shocked me."
A class in African development taught by Jeremy Foltz "was eye-opening," Giulia recalled. "From that class, I learned about all the creative models for doing good in the world," which led her to add AAE to her International Studies major. Then, an internship in her senior year with the Madison microfinance organization Working Capital for Community Needs (WCCN) solidified her decision to take up a career in international development.
At WCCN, "I worked on grant writing and foundation research. I actually like grant writing," she admitted. "I'm writing a report on microfinance in northern Argentina, and I got to translate some official documents from Spanish to English. I also filmed our study tour to Ecuador and have dubbed several videos."
Giulia in Ecuador. An internship changed her life goals.
The Ecuador trip, organized for investors who help fund WCCN's projects, brought them to partner agencies like the Kallari cocoa cooperative, now selling their high quality beans around the world, and a coffee coop that has grown so successful that its small holders can now afford to send their kids to school. Giulia also worked on an effort to aid the Andean Health and Development Corporation in building a hospital in Santo Domingo de los Colorados for underserved rural residents who are mostly too poor to afford health care of any kind.
Giulia’s AAE courses, coupled with her rich experience at WCCN, gave her the skills she is using in her next endeavor: working in the Credit Apprenticeship Program for the microfinance organization FINCA, in Guatemala, following graduation. Training to be a loan officer, she travels to rural areas to determine clients' business needs. "The apprenticeship program aims to get young people involved in microfinance," she explained, "and then there will be opportunities for advancement." FINCA works in 21 countries, which appeals to Giulia, who wants to travel a lot. "I am loving Guatemala and am so grateful to be here," she reported.
Giulia especially enjoyed Tom Cox's Economic Decision Analysis course. "I learned more than I could ever imagine, and it gave me skills to help small businesses maximize their profits. I know I will have an Excel spreadsheet with me at all times!" Cox's course sparked her interest in using analytics to create models to make lending less risky and more effective, as well as "something that can be replicated," she said.
In the long term, Giulia wants to find ways to help communities develop financial stability not dependent on outside aid. ""Aid changes the fabric of how things work," whereas things like village banking and rotating savings and credit associations are "great ways to make change that empowers people."