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Banker heeded call to a kinder, gentler mission

Royston Braganza

Rosa Park for The Globe and Mail/rosa park The Globe and Mail

As a young man fresh out of business school, Royston Braganza took up banking because it was the first job available to him. For the next 12 years, he worked first in consumer and corporate banking for Citibank India and then for HSBC, where he led its small- to medium-sized business sector. Later, as a senior vice-president at HSBC, Mr. Braganza helped set up and became head of its microfinance business. He'd found his calling.

Now as chief executive officer of Mumbai-based Grameen Capital India Ltd., an investment bank focused on helping microfinance institutions connect with capital markets and raise funds, Mr. Braganza is on the front line promoting microfinance as a sustainable way to eradicate poverty. Formed in 2008 as a collaboration between Grameen Foundation USA, IFMR Trust and Citicorp Finance India, Grameen Capital has already generated more than $100-million (U.S.) in financing for more than 800,000 micro-loans to poor people in India.

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"For many years as a banker, I worked possibly in helping rich people get richer," he says. "But I think that I started the microfinance unit within the bank that I was working with because I was drawn to this sector. I really understood the model and got in touch with the real clients and benefits that microfinance loans were making in their lives."

Passion is a critical element in the microfinance industry, says Mr. Braganza.

"I think people are led by passion in a space like this. Enhancing that passion and not stifling it is my key area of focus. It's a very special niche team of investment bankers - not the easiest people to work with, but very focused and with mainstream/commercial banking experience. My role there is to be able to keep them motivated about wanting to serve in this space."

One way he does that is through constant communication and by having them meet the clients to see how financing affects their lives.

"That's what it's all about - being in the field, understanding the business, talking to investors, explaining microfinance," says Mr. Braganza. "The ongoing dynamic is so exciting and invigorating that I don't need to do much. The model takes care of itself."

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As a leader, he says he likes to give his team direction but at the same time to empower them to make their own decisions. It's a small and open office, he says, but one where a lot of fun and banter goes on. "One of the core principles of a social business is to do it with joy, and we try to keep that element," he says. "It also keeps us more human and accessible to our clients."

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A deeply spiritual man, Mr. Braganza attributes much of his strength and perspective to his parents and his Catholic faith. He starts every day with a prayer.

"I never feel overwhelmed by how much there is to overcome," he says. "It's always been an inspiration to me to even see small steps being taken to get out of poverty. It just fills me with such a great sense of awe that such a small amount as $10 or $20 can make such a great impact in terms of a person's life - not as a charity but as a loan for them to start a business.

"Microfinance has been able to help people who have an entrepreneurial spirit, to bring that into fruition, but I don't see that the people of India are different from anywhere else in the world. I think all people have a strong natural spirit to survive, to do well, to want to live life with decency and respect."

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