Book Review Good Returns Guy Winshiphttps://www.amazon.com.au/review/R2HSCV ... eml_rv0_rvCaring Transformation through Microfinance
Sally Rynveld worked at AusAID, the Australian Agency for International Development. I got to know Sally there, and have high regard for her compassion, integrity and wisdom, qualities that flow through the whole of her inspiring biography of Guy Winship, the founder and leader of the highly successful microfinance charity organisation Good Return.
Going along to the launch of A Good Life – The Story of Guy Winship and Good Return
in the Paperchain Bookshop in Manuka, Guy was waiting for the start of the formalities and I had the opportunity to meet him. He exuded warmth and humanity, smiling broadly but looking pale as he battled his advanced terminal melanoma. The cancer has taken his left eye and spread through his body. I struck up a conversation, asking him questions about microfinance, as I worked for a while in that area at AusAID. Guy explained patiently that in his experience, caring directly for the poor through financial inclusion is a more effective and sustainable development strategy than political efforts to change government policies. He kindly agreed to sign a copy of the book for me, writing “Dear Rob, I trust you enjoy the book! Keep on believing! Best Regards, Guy Winship.” Sally also added a message. A Good Life
has exceeded my expectations. This remarkable book is beautifully written, carrying numerous powerful ethical and moral messages that deserve a wide hearing, helping to explain simple profound strategic ideas that many of us do not understand well. Sally and Guy had extensive interviews, capturing his passion and vision for the caring transformation that financial inclusion can bring for people living in extreme poverty, and the ripple effect of these changes for the whole society.
The book is deeply personal and engaging, mixing Guy’s life story with his passion for development policy. Guy has a robust realism, seen for example in his view that loans are more sustainable than grants. He explains that loans to the poor achieve far wider coverage than grants, as well as better recipient ownership, value for money and enduring impact. He comments in the book on the question I put to him about the role of government policy, saying political reform is often so difficult that building a development culture among the poor is a better investment, especially through focus on women as managers of money.
His practical attitude emerges in his ability to get leading Australian businessmen and women involved as volunteers for Good Return and to build the donor base. Guy has an almost unstoppable enthusiasm for hard work and growth of the business. His vision for the future in handing on the CEO position to Shane Nichols is explained at some length, and it was inspiring to hear Shane’s great passion in his comments at the book launch, explaining how Guy’s effort and initiative have benefitted hundreds of thousands of poor people.
Guy was born into a privileged life in South Africa, and the story of his charmed childhood addresses the ugly realities of apartheid, that would take Guy to surf on racially segregated beaches, to a nasty and bitter war in Angola that almost killed him as a conscript, to his success in dodging the draft after his first tour, and then, as his political awareness grew, into the African National Congress and his non-profit focus on achieving the best he could for the world through financial inclusion, working initially in Uganda. His passion for justice led him to constantly dream of how he could achieve more for the poor, enabling illiterate peasants to grow profitable businesses, cultivating the values of economic and social development. He tells of bus journeys on the terrifying mountain passes of Nepal to support the most remote communities where groups of women have formed savings clubs, of the sad problems of corruption and violence that are stalling development in South Africa, of the shock he experienced in moving to Australia to live in a place where peace is normal, and of his numerous consulting assignments in low income countries such as Bangladesh, Laos and Cambodia, seeing how weak process can waste money and effort, while sound project design, engaging with people, can deliver lasting results.
Guy Winship’s life has been about seeking deeper meaning, focusing on personal truth and looking for answers while concentrating on what is important. His amazing journey of discovery, devoting time and effort to finding out the facts while respecting everyone and maintaining an easy good humour, stands as a model of a good life, and is summed up in his advice that sympathy is no substitute for action. The business model of Good Return enables individual donors in rich countries to lend to people in poor countries. As the Good Return website says, you can take action to make a microloan to help a woman grow her business, or donate to provide education and better banking, toward the vision of a world without extreme poverty.
Reflecting on what it means to live a good life, Guy observes that development cooperation serves the interests of the donor as well as the recipient of support, helping the security and reputation and engagement of those who are more generous. Good Returns do in fact return to help the giver, with moral and even spiritual impact. The greatest achievements are when our efforts are based on evidence and logic, which explains the rationality of microfinance as the development activity with the best overall return, achieving a legacy of good.
As Guy moves on, A Good Life
stands as a magnificent celebration and documentation of his inspiring achievements. Alongside his career success, the intimate personal story of cancer told in this book offers a window into his soul. Guy tells stories of his diagnosis, treatment and pain, and the shock and dismay shared with his loving wife Jacqui and his wide networks of friends, but there is no suggestion at all of losing hope. For those like Guy who are searching for deeper meaning, even an untimely death only ends a chapter, while everything he has built continues to move on into new territory. Keep on believing!