Hugh Sinclair spent his first 18 years living in London, before his lifelong passion for travelling and exploring took over.
No longer satisfied selling cheese in a UK department store, he managed to find a job as a messenger in Toronto for a large bank. He managed to gradually work his way up to a junior job on the Toronto Stock Exchange, where his interest in finance was cemented. Economics seemed the obvious choice for a university degree, so he went to the very north of England to study, while working in Toronto and then London in the holidays.
Tired of maths, and unable to postpone full-time employment any longer, Hugh joined the corporate finance department of ING Barings. Once the student loans were repaid he realized that sitting in a stuffy office for 15-hour stretches was not actually particularly pleasant. With experience in only two sectors, finance and cheese, he had no idea what to do next, so decided to do an MBA in Barcelona, during which time he hatched a ridiculous plan to satisfy a childhood ambition – to get into the Guinness Book of Records. Only one potential employer was impressed with this plan, and agreed to sponsor the expedition and postpone his start date – Enron. Thus Hugh and a friend from ING Barings drove two motorcycles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina, blissfully unaware of the events taking place in Houston. With the world record under his belt, Enron and then Argentina collapsed, and Hugh returned to the drawing board. It was time to try something else.
He worked initially in Mexico, at two microfinance institutions (MFIs), and then moved to Mozambique with his girlfriend, now wife, to work on an ailing MFI. After some rather unpleasant discoveries in Africa, they returned to Europe, where Hugh began working for the Dutch microfinance fund Triple Jump, and Jessica began working at a women’s rights fund. Hugh’s ability to sniff out problems was put to good use in his new job, until he sniffed a little too much in the head office, and discovered some more disturbing events occurring in the heart of Holland, far from Africa and Latin America where most of his work took place. Frustrated by what he perceived as utter disregard for the poor, he confronted management, and eventually won a court case against them – leading once again to unemployment.
He has worked as a microfinance consultant ever since, working across the broad range of the sector, visiting and living in some 53 countries. His work has involved some of the largest banks and investment funds in the sector; the rating agencies; peer-to-peer organizations; consulting boutiques; private investors; foundations; large microfinance networks; and countless MFIs. But during this decade he grew increasingly concerned about the actual impact of microfinance upon the lives of the poor. As avoidable and predictable crises began to spread across the sector, and as academic research began to suggest that the impact of microfinance fell somewhat short of its miraculous claims, Hugh began to observe a more pervasive phenomenon: the entire microfinance sector had been discreetly hijacked. It was time to satisfy another childhood ambition, and write a book.
Hugh and Jessica married in 2007 and their daughter was born in 2010. They now live in a remote corner of South America far from the antics of the microfinance sector, in one of the last remaining locations without a single MFI, and no one appears to upset about this. He continues working as a consultant for a select group of clients who genuinely strive to provide ethical, beneficial microfinance to the poor, Jessica continues working for the women’s rights movement.
Hugh remains optimistic about the potential for microfinance, and is quietly optimistic about some subtle changes that are happening already, but his days of flying around the world trying to fix MFIs are over. He now works about 50% of the year in microfinance, and the rest of the year in the renewable energy sector and assisting small companies to grow. He remains passionate about economics, and will one day satisfy a third lifelong ambition to do a PhD, but in the meantime is working on some innovative projects to improve the effectiveness of lending and investing in the poor entrepreneurs of the world.