Hello. My name is Michael Kuntz and I am a GENterpriser. In the spirit of “Get to Know GEN,” I’ve been asked to share a bit about myself and how I came to GEN. Humor me as I embellish it with some thoughts on our future.
I was born in New Orleans to a Peruvian mother and Texan father, grew up between Houston, TX, and Munich, Germany, then was schooled on the east coast, where I resided to work for most of my career (5 years in NYC doing consulting/insurance; 2 years in Charlottesville, VA, for my MBA; and 5 years in St. Petersburg, FL, in finance). That’s the CV version.
Early in my career I had a notion that financial innovation could be transformative for those living at the base of the pyramid (the poor, as they were then simply called). The work of Muhammad Yunus impressed me, as did those behind the first weather derivatives (for floods and other disasters). I went back to school to deepen my understanding, during which I co-founded the Microfinance Club of UVA and spent part of my summer volunteering with a microfinance institution (MFI) in Trinidad and Tobago.
By 2011 I had read most of the books published on microfinance, kept abreast of the ongoing debates around its effectiveness, risks, and nuances in practice. My focus evolved to the enabling conditions and skills necessary to transform communities. Moreover, I was ready to dive in and put theory to practice.
Before going into the second stage of my career, the one that leads to GEN, I want to share some questions that plague me. 1) Why is there poverty? I concede: it is an impossibly broad question, covering economics, politics, sociology, history, and countless other fields of study. Granted. I struggle nonetheless with this symptom of a system poorly designed or executed. 2) How do we create sustainable jobs? I’ve seen the pain and instability caused by unemployment; in Peru, in the States, in Spain, in South Africa, pretty much everywhere I’ve lived or visited. Again, it’s the trillion-dollar question; what politician or NGO wouldn’t give their firstborn to answer it? For the time being, we have partial solutions, half-measures, and welcome experimentation.
My vision of a just world is one where everyone who wants has a decent job, a means of sustaining themselves and their families, a daily purpose and the agency to choose. With that in mind, I immersed myself in design theory, working on sustainable commerce in Amazonian Perú with funding from the Gates Foundation via IDEO.org’s Human Centered Design initiative. I studied several industries in Oaxaca, Mexico, exploring equitable ways to organize production and supply chains. I worked with Kiva, who has evolved to provide working capital directly to social ventures in addition to its traditional MFI partners. And, ultimately, I came to believe in the need for an incubator approach to job creation, one that combines the best practices of community-driven design, technical support, and long-term financing. Enter Generation Enterprise.
Now two months into my time at GEN, I feel that we are tackling the big questions head on. I am inspired by our data-driven approach of testing out what works, learning through iteration, and allowing our Fellows (as proxies for their communities) to drive and inspire our work. As well, there is much to learn from our peers in the space; I am a big believer in collaboration, as we share a common mission. As I set out for a month in Lagos, I look forward to sharing our progress and hope to hear from you over the coming weeks.