Sarah Sassoon is a second-year International Development student from New York City. She is the 2019-20 Editor-in-Chief of Perspectives.

The IDEV Summer Internship Series highlights the experiences of IDEV students participating in internships this past summer. Each year, IDEV students intern with various development organizations around the world. These internships are generously funded by SAIS donors, and offer valuable opportunities for students to gain real-world experience between their first and second years at SAIS.

Perspectives: Where did you intern this summer?

SS: I interned at a non-profit microfinance organization (MFI) in Amman, Jordan called Tamweelcom. The company is one of the oldest MFIs in the Kingdom and focuses on lending primarily to women, youth and refugee borrowers.

Perspectives: How did you find this internship, and what was the hiring process?

SS: I found this internship by networking with people in the financial inclusion space; after numerous conversations, I was able to hone in on my preferred industry and region. I was so fortunate to find a position that allowed me to delve into various points of interest – including financing small and micro enterprises – all while working on my Arabic language skills. 

In terms of the hiring process, it was relatively seamless once I had been connected to the right people within the company. Through the interview process, I found that my previous experience, largely in digital marketing, aligned well with the Digital Financial Services (DFS) team’s needs around rolling out the company’s new e-wallet technology to existing customers.

Perspectives: What were your primary responsibilities? Describe the projects you worked on.

SS: As mentioned above, my overarching task for the summer was to help the DFS team figure out how best to roll out the company’s new e-wallet technology to its nearly 90,000 clients. In an effort to conduct market research, I supported the IFC, the strategic partner on the initiative, in conducting focus group sessions with clients. We spoke with key target demographics – urban and rural women, men, and youth – in order to gauge their appetites for use of DFS.

Once the market research component had been completed, I applied the findings to the creation of a strategic launch and marketing plan that would target youth borrowers by leveraging social media. In a country where cash is king, we found that uptake would be difficult and likely best received, at least at first, by the most digitally-savvy demographic.

Perspectives: Was there previous coursework or work experience that you found especially useful during the internship or the application process?

SS: I utilized learnings from the “Financial Inclusion” course I took in my first semester at SAIS time and time again. Particularly in the market research component of my project, it was key to understand all the various factors that go into the implementation of DFS, from regulatory barriers to data collection and privacy. It was also helpful to recall the numerous case studies of financial technology (FinTech) companies in different regions of the developing world, and to compare and contrast them with the Jordanian market.

Perspectives: What were some of your key takeaways from this internship for your academic and professional interests?

SS: As my first formal experience working in an emerging market, this internship proved to me how crucial it is to gain in-market exposure. So much of understanding how to implement development projects in general, though it may sound cliché, is about meeting beneficiaries face-to-face in order to hear their needs and opinions firsthand. Post-SAIS, I aim to continue working in social enterprises, potentially in the MENA region, and particularly with women entrepreneurs.  

Perspectives: What should future SAIS students interested in this internship know?

SS: Working on a small team within a large company means that it is crucial to be a self-starter.  A lot of my day-to-day consisted of taking the initiative to meet with internal team heads and gauging where the potential gaps in implementation of the DFS project were. I imagine this isn’t unique to the company I worked for; thus, as long as you’re focused and targeted, these experiences can be wildly informative and eye-opening.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Sassoon