It was an uplifting phone call. There were whoops of joy, some laughter and a few tears. Last week, I called Anne Hastings, the CEO of Fonkoze – the leading microfinance institution in Haiti – with big news. Our foundation committed $4.5 million to spur Haiti’s economic recovery from the earthquake. At its core, this commitment will rebuild Fonkoze, which, in turn, is helping Haitians rebuild their country from the ground up through microfinance.
Since 1994, Fonkoze has been a microfinance pioneer in rural Haiti, where the vast majority of the country’s poor live and run microenterprises. What’s innovative is Fonkoze delivers financial products such as loans, savings, insurance, and remittances as well as financial and life skills through a network of thousands of women-run community groups. It’s a grassroots approach that mobilizes women and builds their capacity to take charge of their lives.
The earthquake inflicted deep wounds. Fonkoze lost employees. A third of its staff became homeless. About 8,000 of its clients lost everything. Fonkoze’s headquarters and several branches within the earthquake zone were destroyed. Although Haiti’s financial system had shut down, Fonkoze demonstrated great resilience and was up and running within days. Despite extreme hardships, Fonkoze employees kept systems functioning to deliver critical services such as savings and remittances to clients across Haiti. Microfinance became a lifeline to the rural economy and the most vulnerable.
Haitians have always depended on their inner resilience to combat extreme poverty. A year ago, I was in Haiti listening to Fonkoze’s clients in the Central Plateau. They spoke with dignity and confidence about how their lives were improving. You can learn more about these women by watching this video.
These women were recent graduates of a two-year program to move them out of extreme poverty. They had received mentoring, literacy training, financial education and enterprise skills, as well as assets such as goats or chickens. The program results were startling. Ninety-three percent of the women could access loans of $25 and continue climbing the staircase out of poverty without further subsidization. While at the outset, virtually every woman was food insecure and hungry, at 24 months the number had decreased to 41 percent. Previously, 27 percent of the women sent their children to school. Six months after the end of the program, 70 percent did. This was a vote of confidence on creating a better future.
Calling on the resilience and creativity of the Haitian people will speed Haiti’s post-earthquake recovery. Supporters and friends need to deliver resources and tools into the hands of people who have the greatest stake in rebuilding the lives of their families and communities. We must also strengthen institutions that are accountable to Haiti’s poor. For our foundation, this is an opportunity to reinforce Fonkoze’s long-term resilience and help Haitians build back a better Haiti.