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Sam Gant '13 meeting with his first microfinance client, Jean-Francois Mafouta in Dakar, Senegal.
Sam Gant '13 meeting with his first microfinance client, Jean-Francois Mafouta in Dakar, Senegal.

Summer in Dakar: Microlending at a Cultural Crossroads

In early June, Sam Gant ’13 spent an evening in a crowd full of energetic, designer-clad West African hip-hop fans. While the DJs played a combination of Western and traditional music, some performers free-styled in Wolof, a common Senegalese language. That is life at the cultural crossroads that is Dakar, Senegal’s capital city

Thanks to funding from Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC), Gant is spending his summer in Dakar, interning with Zidisha, Inc., a microlending service that connects lenders in Europe and the United States with burgeoning entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Gant, a political science and French double major, is working with 50 of Zidisha, Inc.’s borrowers, helping them stay on track with repayment and in communication with their lenders. “This job was a great chance to get hands-on experience working with developing entrepreneurs, and has given me a lot of perspective on how local economies function here,” he says.

Life in Dakar demonstrates both sides of the economic gap that Zidisha, Inc. is hoping to bridge. “On my first day in Senegal I went to an upscale mall and had the best gelato I’ve ever had in my life,” says Gant. “And on the same day, I drank bitter tea outside of a fisherman’s hut on the beach and watched fishermen haul brightly painted pirogues out of the water for the night.”

Two very different cultures, Western and traditional Senegalese have formed a unique marriage that is evident in Dakar’s music and fashion, as well as in its business development and even its popular sports. “Traditional wrestling, laamb, is [really popular] here, and when matches happen everyone watches,” Gant says. “The wrestlers are trained both by coaches and by spiritual guides…In that degree the sport hasn’t changed for millennia—except that…the matches are [now] prominently endorsed by Nido Milk and Samsung.”

It’s these collisions of Western and traditional cultures that inspired Gant’s interest in Zidisha, Inc. “It’s important not to neglect the smaller entrepreneurs who want to improve their circumstances,” Gant said. “I’m really happy to be working in a field that knits together economics and venture capitalism with direct human interaction.”

—Erin Adaline Seglem 14

The path that leads to the Gardner Integrated Athletic Center and Whitehead Campus Center. The GIAC opened in 2006.

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