Financing a poverty-free future
31 January 2022 at 5:48 pm
Shane Nichols is the CEO of Good Return, a charity helping people living in poverty achieve economic empowerment. He’s this week’s Changemaker.
While travelling through Asia and Africa, Shane Nichols was exposed to the realities of people living in extreme poverty.
It was this that inspired him to use his time and skills to make a change, he secured a degree in international development and threw himself into the world of microfinance social enterprises.
Nichols then landed a job with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading, working on rural and economic development programs in China and Mongolia. He then returned to Australia, and connected with the founder of Good Return, Guy Winship, to help grow the organisation into what it is today.
With an overarching aim of creating a world without poverty, Good Return focuses on providing people living in poverty with financial training to help them achieve economic empowerment.
It’s programs range from impact investment funds in Asian Pacific communities, an Indigenous entrepreneurship program supporting First Nations women start their own businesses, and financial literacy programs.
The charity’s microloans have funded 11,000 women in small business, and its financial education programs have given 50,800 low income people new skills in savings management and family finance planning.
As well as this, its impact investment fund – which is only one year old – has funded 74 small to medium enterprises, creating or sustaining 465 jobs in the chilli, maize, rice, and aquaculture sectors in Indonesia and Cambodia.
In recognition of his leadership, Nichols was named one of Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25 Award Winners in 2021.
In this week’s Changemaker, Nichols discusses why he was drawn to the microfinance model, the things that inspire his leadership, and overcoming the challenges of his work.
How did you get involved in the job you’re in now?
During travels in Africa and Asia in the 1990s I met many families living in extreme poverty, and I was the beneficiary of some real acts of kindness and generosity from these people. I wanted to do something to help, and when I came across a microfinance program I was inspired to learn more and get involved.
I studied a masters degree and worked on microfinance and rural development programs in China and Mongolia for a few years before returning to Australia to work with Guy Winship in establishing and growing Good Return. Good Return has expanded its scope from responsible microfinance and financial education to include impact investing. More than 60,000 people have benefitted from our financial training and access to finance programs.
What drew you to microfinance as a way to alleviate poverty?
I was inspired by the way it was supporting people to pursue their own aspirations and earn a living. Mostly it was about respect and giving everyone the same opportunities many of us take for granted. If you have no ability to save or borrow it is very hard for anyone to get ahead financially, and this includes people living in poverty.
What are some of the things that inspire your leadership?
I see myself as a servant leader – I have a great team and so supporting them to address any challenges and opportunities is a big part of my role. Our work is long-term in nature, and I draw inspiration from leadership discourse such as Simon Sinek’s “The Infinite Game”.
The fight against poverty is not a battle that you win and then say “the job is now done”. It’s an ongoing challenge, part of a broader fight for human rights that will always need our focus and attention. So long-term thinking is required. It’s a challenge but it’s one that keeps me inspired and focused.
How do you manage the challenges of your job and remain grounded in difficult situations?
I like to stay connected to our work in the field – the stories of the people we work with are both a source of inspiration and a way to stay grounded. The restrictions on travel have meant that we need to do this in different ways, and I am fortunate that our local staff in the various countries in which we operate are great at sharing updates on a weekly basis, including photos and stories and sharing learnings from the field with the wider team.
How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
I find water to be the best rejuvenator, and enjoy regular swims in the ocean, as well as sailing. I cycle wherever I can, and enjoy time in nature with my family and friends.
Inspired by this article? Check out this year’s Impact 25 Award nominees, the social sector leaders that deserve celebrating. Voting closes 1 February, so have your say here.