How Sophie Paine's Desire for Change Brought Her to Ethica's CIFE


Sophie Paine

Cambodia, June 2013

After working for many years in financial roles in international companies, I decided to take a break from the work and commute whirl to think of how I could impact my community in a more meaningful way. In Hong Kong, migrants come to this city from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka pushed by economic reasons and one goal: to offer their families a better future. But they take huge loans to pay for the trip and once here many of them see their dreams of a better life, a house back home, a small business, studies for their children or siblings - soon swallowed by debt, interest, and despair.

Moved by their stories, I set up A+B=3 in 2005 to try at a small scale to break this cycle and empower these migrants to get out of debt. I believe a business with social objectives like A+B=3 is not just about targets and plans, but relationships and opportunities. This is how A+B=3 started running programs in Cambodia (as I am writing I am on my 15th trip there). Cambodians shared with me their financial issues, which sounded so familiar: debts - usually at double digit monthly interest rates - difficulties in controlling consumption, no plan and no savings, so whenever an emergency occurs or a bill is due, it is paid with another loan.

This is where Islamic finance and Ethica's CIFE came in. Designing training programs for low income people challenged the way I viewed finance. Conventional financial literacy which focuses on individual savings also struck me as contradicting the obsession of macroeconomic policies for consumption index and growth. So I turned to Islamic finance to look for more solid answers. Ethica's comprehensive, practical, online CIFE ranked high above all the other courses: the step by step approach and the review and quizzes embedded in the lessons made learning easy and helped concepts "stick." I was also touched by the personalized service at Ethica: an immediate personal welcome and several times receiving encouragement along the way as I worked towards my CIFE.

With Ethica's help, Islamic finance pushed me to redefine our financial education curriculum, distancing it from conventional finance. In Islamic finance, money is a means of exchange: instead of looking at how we spend and invest for our own benefit as selfish economic agents, I began looking at how we can make money circulate and impact others. The everyday prayer of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) for protection against poverty and debt made me think hard about the prevalent culture of credit.

We need a big push to get rid of poverty and deep in my heart, I know we can: Islamic finance has the tools to do it. Restructuring their debts with a mix of qard (interest-free loan) and debt cancellation may look less appealing to donors than interest-based solutions, but accompanied with an expense management training program and the Mudarabah or Musharakah based microenterprises that I learned about at Ethica, it is a powerful (and probably only) way to free millions of modern "debt-slaves."

As we witness the current financial system eat its tail and fail to tackle poverty because it inherently creates more poverty and fuels social unrest through unbalanced and unfair deals and interest-based financing, humanity has a unique opportunity to change the world in a positive way. Only an interest free system, based on risk sharing and ethics, empowers millions of people to improve their ways of life and go beyond struggling to feed and educate their children or simply survive.

I was inspired to write something today because this month Ethica is rolling out the red carpet: anyone who signs up for Ethica's CIFE before the end of this month not only gets a 20% discount (see details below) but also gets a chance to win an amazing trip to Dubai. Meeting with Ethica's experts and scholars gives one unmatched access to some of the best minds in the industry and will help guide one's Islamic finance journey. I know I benefited from Ethica, Islamic finance, and my new direction and I hope others benefit too.

For the first time in my working life, I feel that I am making a difference in my own small way. I feel that if one wants to change the world, it just takes a small step to begin. For me, a huge part of that small step was enrolling into Ethica's CIFE. It helped change my life. The most important part of this small step is that it should be begun today. Whatever you do, begin it now.


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