By volunteering with a microfinance program in the historic coastal town of Saint-Louis, Senegal in the fall of 2016, I became embedded within the Senegalese culture and gained a unique perspective on the loan process. Coordinated by the for-profit organization, Projects Abroad, the microfinance office aimed to help women and Talibés (young men studying the Quran) gain financial independence through small-scale sustainable entrepreneurship while simultaneously providing its volunteers with meaningful experiences.
The purpose of my thesis is to examine the interactions among the Senegalese staff, international volunteers, and Senegalese loan participants, and the ways in which their constantly evolving reactionary relationships impacted the program. The paper provides a context of Saint-Louis, Senegal as well as the Projects Abroad Organization and outlines the loan process prior to examining the daily activities of the program. I highlight important factors such as religion, education, gender roles, and saving techniques in order to show how juxtaposing values and traditions played key roles in the program’s evolution. Ultimately, I argue that the heterogeneity of values, norms, and expectations among those participating in the program created both obstacles and opportunities for program implementation and the ways in which to gauge its success.
By sharing my personal observations and experiences, I hope to provide the reader with a greater understanding of the complexities of intercultural communication in the microfinance arena. In the words of the American economist and philosopher Tyler Cowen, “Real cultural diversity results from the interchange of ideas, products, and influences, not from the insular development of a single national style.”