“Gee Sam,” I hear you asking, “besides getting atrocious haircuts and eating a lot of carbs, do you do anything else in Senegal?” Yes. I work.
I’m currently one of two Client Relationship Managers for Zidisha.org (https://www.zidisha.org/index.php?p=0), a groundbreaking peer-to-peer microfinance service that connect lenders in developed countries with borrowers in developing countries via online profiles that display descriptive posts and photos. If you want to see what the future looks like, click that link. My job is to move all around the city of Dakar and environs signing up new borrowers and helping them activate their profiles, making sure that people who have loans out are keeping on top of repayments and are posting frequent updates to the people who funded them, and generally being on hand to address any problems or questions that come up.
The advantage to this kind of work is that I get to meet a lot of fascinating, highly motivated entrepreneurs–we currently have about 50 loans out, with dozens more waiting to be funded. In only 3 days of work I’ve already had the opportunity to meet a Congolese civil war refugee who has established himself as president of a handicapped association and wants to start a telemarketing service to sell shoes and boubous, a cancer survivor who had to use her first loan to pay for her treatment, recovered, paid it back in full, and now owns a successful restaurant that opened last month, and met a single mother who has used microfinance to benefit from economies of scale to dramatically expand her business of delivering medical supplies to the direly understocked emergency rooms of Dakar hospitals. Besides its primary function as forum for borrowers and lenders to meet, the Zidisha platform also brings to light some riveting stories.
My job also entails a certain degree of tedium. In the week before I came to Senegal I alternated between reading up on the history and principles of microfinance and going fishing for hours at a time. As much as my job calls for familiarity with the website and thorough knowledge of Zidisha terms, it mostly requires PATIENCE. A visit to a client never takes less than two hours, not including the time I spend stalled in traffic and waiting for them to arrive at our rendez-vous. One key precept of the organization is that clients must type all of their updates themselves, and today I spent half an hour helping a client search with one finger, letter by letter, until he had written a two sentence long update to his lenders. It was exhausting for both of us, but at the same time I think he felt a significant sense of accomplishment by the time he finished. He told me after that it was the longest statement he had ever typed in his life.
So that’s the job. I make a lot of phone calls, explain the same things many many times, ride in a lot of skeletal taxis that have been battering through Dakar traffic for decades, and finish work tired. Check out the website, read some of the loan proposals and personal stories, and maybe lend someone five bucks. If anything goes wrong, I’m over here to recoup your losses. Let me know how much you invested and I’ll just take something of equivalent value and bring it back to you.
This kind of thing is gonna be big. Let me know if you want to learn more.