A child of Polish immigrants who sought asylum in the US, Sylvia Panek was born and raised in Chicago. Although her early childhood was spent in a Midwestern suburban lifestyle, the family moved to Poland in the early 90’s after the Iron Curtain fell. While living in Eastern Europe, Sylvia witnessed the impact that decades of oppression had in stymieing the country’s development. Eventually, the family returned to the United States where Sylvia continued her education and career. However, the years abroad left an indelible impact on the importance of civil rights and self-determination in a healthy society. Coupled with a passion for nature, Sylvia eventually found a rewarding career in sustainable and socially responsible finance that aligned with her vision for a better world.
Sylvia first met Jon Bishop in 2007 at what was then called the SRI in the Rockies conference, now named ESG for Impact. Jon had just launched Envest Microfinance Cooperative and she admired the company’s mission. Envest’s dedicated commitment to servicing the smallest microfinance institutions, is a service that the microlending market sorely needs. There are still many regions in the developing world that major institutional capital fails to reach. Envest’s lending partners are often in remote areas of the world, where the need (and impact) is arguably greater. Years later, when a spot opened up on the board of directors, Sylvia was glad to join.
Traditional finance operates on an investor-return-maximization model, which doesn’t consider its repercussions on people and planet, leading to many of the systemic problems in the world today. Sylvia believes solutions to these collective problems cannot be found using the same mentality and approaches that created them. Envest Microfinance is willing to seek partnerships in locations traditional finance doesn’t care to consider. It’s the local microfinance institutions that understand their regional needs best. They nurture economic development from micro to small and medium sized businesses. Microfinance institutions often offer a range of credit products and may offer savings and insurance products depending on the regulatory environment. By having a robust network of financial opportunities, community members have the ability to support their families beyond the immediate needs. Increased economic opportunities help build support for the future via education, home improvements, and community infrastructure. This is why Sylvia Panek is proud to serve as the President of the Envest Microfinance board of directors.