Works and Days

PSF: An Insider Perspective on Microfinance

A beautiful photo of my coworker's daughter showing off her beautiful hair during a work retreat at Mbezi beach

“When we designed microcredit, the purpose was to help people get out of poverty, but some people moved away from that motivation.”  

These words by Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, have stayed in my mind the whole time during my internship in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania over the summer. Working as a Marketing and Loan Officer intern at African Microfinance Limited(AML) gave me a whole new perspective on how to approach the literature on microfinance in developing countries. Here is a list of things I learned from my experience.

  1. Microfinance does not mean philanthropy unless it does. AML is a microfinance firm but my supervisor made it clear from the first day that it is a business and they are looking to make profit. They mostly serve the middle and wealthy class individuals in Dar es Salaam area who can afford to pay an 8 per cent interest rate per month compared to 2-3 per cent offered by other microfinance institutions.  Microfinance in this case meant a small finance institution.  
  2. If you are going to be a marketing officer you have to love and believe in the product you are selling. I had a really hard time marketing AML products because I felt that the interest rates were too high and the collateral needed excluded a lot of the working class and poor individuals but I came to terms with the fact that the company was serving a different market. I expected them to serve the less privileged individuals looking to start small business but they were focused on business owners who wanted to expand their businesses. 
  3. Selling money is harder than selling computers! I went in with my experience as a sales assistant at the Reed Computer Store and this did not work for me at all. I had to learn more about selling services and I am very grateful for the experience. 
  4. Translation is a hard job unless you are a translator. Since Swahili is the national language in Tanzania, a lot of professionals speak little or no English at all. Despite the fact that I consider myself a native Swahili speaker, I had a really hard time translating legal documents from English to Swahili and google translate was not as helpful as I expected.  
  5. Work retreats is a thing and you should always go and make memories with your coworkers. Given the proximity of the city to Indian Ocean, there were a lot of great and fancy beaches around and I got to spend some time there with my coworkers during monthly work retreats. 'Being a loan recovery officer needs more guts than skills. I accompanied a colleague once to a client's home for recovery because the client had not paid his loan for a long period of time. After checking in with the client we decided to take his car as he had offered it as collateral and I almost shed tears as his young boy screamed at the top of his lungs asking us to leave their car.
  6. Food is very cheap in Dar es Salaam. You can spend less than $10 a day on healthy and good food, this consists of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks! And you get to talk and laugh with people sitting next to you in restaurants even if you do not know them.  
  7. Tanzanians are very warm and friendly, do not get scared if everyone around you is concerned about you.I met new people and made friends everywhere I went, shops, restaurants, bank, the mall and other public spaces. You just need to reply to a greeting with a smile or say hello and you can get yourself a best friend! 
  8. Zanzibar is 26 minutes from Dar es Salaam by flight but you can take the slow ferry and take 8 hours! Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. I thought I would fight my aquaphobia and ended up taking the slow ferry to Zanzibar, I have never been so scared in my life! Anyway, I had a great time learning about the Islamic influences on the island and walking around the Stone Town. 

Tags: presidents summer fellowship 2017