Life at Deloitte

A life-changing detour to the Peace Corps

One Deloitte professional’s impact on a West African community

June 20, 2019

This time three years ago Austin Maggard had just deferred his employment with Deloitte to join the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa.

Austin, an international tax consultant at Deloitte Tax LLP, grew up in a suburb just outside of Chicago and attended Miami University of Ohio, where he studied accounting and disability studies. He was always passionate about helping those who are marginalized by empowering them through education. This was one of the reasons Austin applied to join the Peace Corps, the internationally recognized volunteer program headed by the US government.

Here Austin shares his story about his two years in Togo, the importance of giving back, and why he ultimately decided to defer his employment with Deloitte until he came back to the US.

Austin in Togo with his dog, Dodzi.

A different approach to making a difference

My grandpa's influence was a big reason why I decided to join the Peace Corps. He asked me to consider it when I started college, and it always stuck with me. Just a few months before my internship with Deloitte, my grandpa passed away. I thought a lot about what he taught me, and I came to the realization that if I was going to serve in the Peace Corps now would be the best time.

I served in Togo, a small country in Western Africa, as an English and gender education volunteer. After spending three months with a host family learning about the culture, technical aspects of the jobs, and how to speak French, each volunteer was sent to a village. I worked at the local middle school where I taught English to three classes with between 80 to 100 students.

Aside from teaching, I led malaria training programs, established a microloan and financial literacy program, fundraised money to purchase 1,000 textbooks for my school, organized a camp for people with disabilities, and worked at a women's nonprofit.

From a stranger to a brother

Togo is very different from the US, and I never fully adjusted to life there. Given that the language and culture were new to me, I stood out as a foreigner and was treated like one for a long time. I had never been so far out of my comfort zone during those two years, but over time, through interactions with my community and patience, I was welcomed as a "frère" or brother.

My achievements would not have been possible had I not integrated into my community. By eating their food, learning their dances, speaking their local language, celebrating life, and mourning death with them, I developed a special relationship with my neighbors. I began to really understand their wants and needs, and together, we brought about change in our community.

Valuable lessons

My focus as a volunteer was changing behaviors, and it took me a while to understand how to best approach that. I remember seeing a group of girls who had been pulled out of class to wash soccer uniforms. I asked them why they were washing their uniforms in the middle of the school day. They chuckled and told me, “it wasn’t their uniforms, it was the boys’." I was in disbelief and searched for the closest teacher to berate. The conversation did not go well, and I will never forget when the teacher retorted, “this is our culture.”

Being a changemaker

It took a lot of reflection on my part to realize what I had done. As a foreigner, who am I to say what is right and what is wrong? I realized that if I wanted to change behaviors, I could not impose my values. Through this experience and many others, I learned that the best approach is through self-realization. I discovered that by asking leading questions and letting others come to their own conclusions, a more effective change occurs. 'Why are the girls performing worse than the boys in school?' I would ask. 'Do you believe being in class is related to performance?' These are a few questions I posed that started a new conversation among the school faculty.

In my opinion, the most important impact a volunteer can make is one that's also the most difficult to measure—behavior change. I hope that I left some girls feeling more empowered and convinced some boys to act as advocates to the female community. Behavior change is assessed over time, and I plan to revisit my community, so I can see how my influence has shaped my students.

Fun fact

You won’t find fast food chains or well-known coffee shops in Togo, but you will find Deloitte Togo. I connected with the managing partner of Deloitte Togo, and I was invited to participate in their local Impact Day. We added a roof and walls to a nearby school that taught its students outdoors. Although there are members firms of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited all around the world, it is incredible to see how we recognize our duty to give back to our communities.

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