Interview with Dr Peter Slowe: Micro-finance in Senegal
What is the micro-finance project and why have you set it up?
We have run a micro-finance project before in Tanzania and it worked really well. It does tremendous good in the local community and really helps people get their businesses off the ground. We essentially provide individuals with small loans that enable them to build a future for themselves through small scale entrepreneurship.
Even something as simple as giving a small loan to a local farmer so that he can fix an attachment to his bicycle can make the world of difference. He can then transport his goods to market and sell his produce.
How is the loan repaid?
Volunteers and local staff monitor the individuals and provide them with guidance and support. We are not looking to make any money out of these loans and we do not charge any interest. The aim of this project is solely to provide an opportunity to those who need it. If the business is successful and they are in a position to repay the loan, only then will they reimburse over time and with guidance.
There are a number of countries in which our volunteers could do a micro-finance project, why should they choose Senegal?
We already have two care centres in St Louis which we set up a few years ago to offer help and support to the Talibés. These street children come from disadvantaged families and are sent to live with religious leaders at an early age. They don’t receive any formal education and are forced to beg on the streets for food and money.
The aim of this project is to support these children as they get older and help them to secure a sustainable future for themselves. Many of the Talibés show a real interest in business and have a very entrepreneurial mind-set. St Louis is developing as a tourist base so there are plenty of opportunities for these children in the service and business sectors. By giving them small loans or grants, we can help them find their feet.
Why do you need the help of volunteers?
Volunteers with experience in finance and business can share their knowledge in order to make small businesses a success. Those without experience can still get involved, but in a different way. For example, if one of the children starts up a small stall, you may find yourself helping him sell his produce.
In 2011 Projects Abroad contributed 1.5 million hours of voluntary labour. We are looking to continue the good work.
What do the volunteers get out of it?
Projects Abroad isn’t just about giving aid – it is also about exchange. The exchange of knowledge and culture. Volunteers on this project will learn a huge amount about business, finance and the Talibé traditions. This placement will also enhance the CV of volunteers considering a career in the development or business sector.
What sort of entrepreneurship/businesses does Projects Abroad support?
The majority of the loans we provide go towards the service and manufacturing business. We recently gave a small loan to one woman who decided to start her own business making fresh fruit juice. She put the money towards equipment that made the juice hygienic and safe to drink. She has been very successful as a result.
This project has only recently been set up. What are the benefits to volunteering on a new project?
This particular project may be new, but we have been working with the Talibé children for a long time. We know that this is something that they are enthusiastic about. These children have very low self-esteem and volunteers are instrumental in making them realise their own potential.
Working on a new project such as this allows volunteers to help shape the project. They will have more resources dedicated to them than any other project because it is new and because we want it to be a success. They will also be part of the wider volunteer community in Senegal. We know that micro-finance works because we have had success in other countries.