Student Learns About Poverty Working on Microfinance in the Dominican Republic

by Elliot Sandborn '14, International Internship, Dominican Republic

I lived in the barrios of East Santo Domingo and worked at a Banco ADEMI, the largest private, for-profit microfinance bank in the Dominican Republic, and one of the largest and most successful microfinance banks in Latin America. I lived with a local Dominican friend, Sam, whom I had met in the summer of 2009 as a high school volunteer in rural community in San Juan, DR.

At ADEMI, I worked alongside loan officers, visiting clients and following up on loans. I did research on ADEMI's history, their model of microfinance, and tried to tap into what was it that made them so successful. Drawing on my experiences in the field with the loan officers, executive interviews and a 1997 World Bank case study on ADEMI, I compiled a 13,000-word report for the president of the bank that reflected on what I - and my informants - considered to be key aspects of the ADEMI model, including the continuity of leadership and vision the bank has experienced and the strong commitment to a "business-like approach" to service.

While in the DR I reflected on the meaning of service, the realities of "development" work, and the day-to-day challenges of my friends and neighbors, many of which reflected the demographics of ADEMI's poorer clients. Particularly motivating were the trips I took with Sam back to the rural community where Sam grew up and where I spent a summer as a volunteer in 2009.

Stronger Spanish skills and a few years of maturity and study at Dartmouth allowed me to shed new light on old experiences. Extreme poverty on the outskirts of Sam's community opened my eyes not only to the depth of poverty that is possible but also the steep gradient of inequality that exists in the DR and in many developing countries.

I came back to Dartmouth in the spring of 2013 determined to better define my interests in human development and hone in on unique resources and opportunities at Dartmouth in order to ultimately develop the rigorous tools to address complex societal issues with more than justgood intentions.

During 2014-15, Elliot was scheduled to undertake a Dickey Center Lombard Public Service Fellowship in Liberia working as a Research Analyst for the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise division of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry. Due to the health emergency in Liberia, he is working in the US on a related project.