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In loving memory of Olga

January 2018

Our dear friend and colleague Olga Torres passed away on 20th July 2017 after a short battle with cancer.  Olga leaves behind an unmatched legacy wherever life took her – in the countries and the companies she worked in, and the roles and functions she covered over the years.

Olga came into our lives after she took up a consulting assignment with Concern Cambodia in 2001-2002, around the time she and Michael moved to Cambodia and got married (many of us also got to know Michael initially as Olga’s husband but increasingly thought of him as our friend over the years).  Her consulting work was so impactful for Concern, that it ultimately developed into a full time role for her.  As a key member of the management of the newly set up microfinance company, AMK she managed multiple roles in the beginning, including Company set up, hiring of key management and even training the board of AMK in microfinance.  Shortly thereafter, under her guidance AMK embarked upon its strategy strongly focused around social objectives in microfinance.  This pioneering work she performed in setting up the social performance system in AMK Cambodia was well before most of the microfinance industry caught up with the concept and execution of social performance management [AMK: 2002 to 2009].  This is probably her biggest legacy, what she will be most remembered for.

Her work led AMK to considerable success and much recognition as a responsible microfinance institution, one that keeps the customer at the centre of all its decisions.  This would not have been achieved in the absence of Olga’s inspiring leadership – both in the adoption of a client-centred approach to financial service, but also in the practical use of her technical skills in designing a system that could track and measure social performance within a business framework.

During their time in Cambodia, Olga and Michael became proud parents to Daniel, their eldest son born in 2006.  Soon thereafter, little Daniel was already happily accompanying his mother to staff retreats and even on an overseas work trip to India, made possible by Michael’s presence alongside…while Olga juggled a conference in between feeding Daniel.

In 2009, Olga moved with her family to Dar-es-Salaam, from where she worked part-time as a consultant for the Agora group for a few short years soon after her younger son Ruben was born [Agora: 2010 to 2011].  Her stint with Agora eventually led to her subsequent move to Zambia, to help Agora’s new green-field AMZ take shape [AMZ: 2012 to 2016].  At AMZ she again performed multiple roles, beginning with the set-up of the intended social performance and research systems and finishing with her final 18 months as the CEO of the Company.  In Zambia, she brought her diligence and discipline to bear upon the entire institution as AMZ tried to cope with difficult conditions for rural finance.  In the process Olga led us to internalise the spirit of a tireless pursuit which AMZ is currently engaged in, one in which success is not achieved easily, but definitely comes about if someone has the fierce commitment and drive that came so easily to her.

Olga will be remembered for many things.  Such was her passion for everything she lay her hands on, that it was only a matter of time before whatever she touched would blossom into full bloom.  In her work she did not do short-cuts, that was just not who she was.  As a result, every piece of her work was detailed with the care and finesse of an expert craftswoman, making it almost impossible to find a flaw in whatever she did.  Also, if you looked carefully, or long enough, you would see that hidden beneath this perfectionist was also an extremely sensitive person who would always go well beyond the call of duty to make others succeed, and always without expecting or asking any credit for it.  Her humility made her an inspirational leader and it was an absolute privilege to work with her.

Her lasting memories are many, but perhaps the most long-lasting one is of her smiling face, one that reflected positivity, aspirations, strength, and much else; but above all the genuine warmth that she possessed.  While we mourn her loss, it is also time to celebrate the person she was and the life she lived.