Lori Ospina is Regional Program Officer for Grameen Foundation’s Latin America and Caribbean region.
When I began working at Grameen Foundation in August 2009, I was new to microfinance and was excited about becoming an expert in loan administration, portfolio management, social performance, livelihood developments — themes that had always grabbed my attention. One can imagine my surprise when after six months on the job, I realized I was quickly becoming an expert in Colombian labor law, tax liabilities and government requirements instead!
[caption id="attachment_1505" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Lori Ospina, consultant Milton Cadavid Jaramillo and IT manager Vlad Petrov in our new Colombia office just after it opened."][/caption]
With the support of generous donors, Grameen Foundation began working in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in 1999, but until recently had conducted all of its LAC-related activities from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 2009, the organization decided to decentralize and move closer to the areas where we operate, so we could support poverty-focused organizations and serve the poor more effectively and efficiently. Alberto Solano, Regional CEO for LAC, was in charge of opening the office, which would be in Colombia. He already had a full plate as the Regional CEO, so I was tasked with moving things forward. What a learning curve!
Today, Grameen Foundation is a fully registered international organization with an office in Medellín. Opening the office was an interesting journey. We navigated various Colombian agencies, including the Ministerio de Interior (Minister of Interior), the Camara de Comercio (Chamber of Commerce), and Dirrecion de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacioniales (Tax Authorities). Fortunately, we had tremendous volunteer support. The law firm of Brigard & Urrutia generously took us under its wings, educating and guiding us along the process. The attorneys there spent hours on end talking us through the processes we would need to go through, explaining immigration law and tax law and employment law over and over and over, in case we didn’t understand it the first time ... which happened often!