The Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum: A Letter to Microfinance Institutions
by Anne Hastings, Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group.
The full versionof this blog post initially appeared on the Center for Financial Inclusion blog.
Here is an excerpt:
"It’s time we all learn and consider for our own work the implications of the “new” definition of full financial inclusion:
A state in which all people who can use them have access to a suite of quality financial services, provided at affordable prices, in a convenient manner, and with dignity for the clients. Financial services are delivered by a range of providers, most of them private, to financially capable clientele.
How many of us can say that we have achieved this goal, if only for our own target group in our own geographic region? What this means, for starters, is that credit is certainly not enough in today’s world – our clients need savings, insurance, remittances, payments, currency exchange, etc. And they need them at affordable prices in convenient places for them to reach and with respect….
What is clear to me is that some of the very important values the best MFIs bring is their (1) knowledge of their clients (who tend to be the most difficult to serve), (2) understanding of what their clients’ needs are, (3) grasp of their clients’ perceptions of formal institutions, which in the end have discouraged them from using those services, (4) skill in designing products that do meet their clients’ needs, and (5) ability to help their clients learn and grow – which they have acquired from years of on-the-ground experience working with them. The best MFIs have long-term, intimate relationships with their clients, and they have successfully learned to listen well to what they have to say. They have systems in place to protect their clients and know the importance of giving them voice in everything they do. And, finally, and most importantly they know how to advocate for their target group whether it be the poorest, the most rural, women, or youth – and that means that if the financial inclusion movement leaves any of those groups out, they will be prepared to hold them accountable.”
Alex Counts: What I Learned at the FI2020 Global Forum
Grameen Foundation President Alex Counts, who serves on the board of Fonkoze USA and co-chairs the Fonkoze Family Coordinating Committee, recently wrote about his takeaways from the Financial Inclusion 2020 Global Forum, hosted by the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion. The full version of this post originally appeared on their blog. An excerpt:
"Financial inclusion feels like more of a means than an end. For me, the end is the reduction of poverty and the empowerment of low-income women – so why not focus on those? If having a poor or even middle-class person simply open their first “no frills” bank account is considered a step towards financial inclusion, regardless of how useful or helpful that bank account is, is this banner a lackluster one to rally under? Further, it is not clear to me that the provision of quality financial services through informal financial institutions (however defined) is being properly valued in the financial inclusion agenda. Finally, does making “financial capability” something of a prerequisite for people accessing formal financial services effectively let financial institutions off the hook for meeting clients where they are and designing appropriate products for them?
While my apprehension about these concepts has not entirely dissipated, I emerged from the Global Forum feeling that this campaign for full financial inclusion, at least as defined by CFI, is evolving as a powerful rallying point for a diverse coalition of providers, regulators, technologists, researchers, and activists. The notion of full inclusion is essential. I now see financial capability as a concept that defines the end state when financial education (through whatever means) is done effectively. The Forum probably had a similar impact on many others – helping them travel from a place of confusion or even wariness towards strong alignment and shared purpose.”
As we work to further financial inclusion in Haiti, Fonkoze is excited to be part of this emerging dialogue about financial inclusion.
Intern Q&A: Ang DeMarco
Where are you from?
Utah, basically born and raised with a quick stint in Alabama.
What’s your background?
I attended Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah and majored in Anthropology, Philosophy, and Peace and Justice Studies.
What motivated you to become a Fonkoze intern?
During a trip to Haiti in 2012 with a group of students from my university, we spent a day with Fonkoze. Chemen Lavi Miyo (CLM) Regional Directors Steven Werlin and Emile Mesidor took us to visit with CLM members at various stages in the program. We met with women who had just started the program and women who had recently graduated.
Seeing the physical, mental, and emotional differences between these women was amazing. The first two women that we met with avoided eye contact, were very shy, and seemed embarrassed to talk about their past. The next woman, who had just graduated, was confident, outspoken, and proud to tell the story of her life before and after CLM. I was hooked.
What surprised you most when you first arrived?
How easily the CLM team became my family. When I arrived in Haiti, I had no background in Kreyòl or French, and moved into the house with people I had never met before, aside from Steve. I immediately connected with CLM Director Gauthier Dieudonne on the drive to Mibalè. We both have very diverse backgrounds and he quickly became my Haitian Papa. I was immediately accepted by the entire CLM staff and soon after considered them my family.
What’s your most memorable story from living in the CLM house?
One memorable night, Ismith and Roger were helping me with my Kreyòl. I had only been there for a couple of weeks and they would point to things and teach me the Kreyòl names. When we ran out of things in the yard, they moved on to other words. They were trying to get me to say avyon or airplane. It was so random and their explanation of “it moves forward but cannot move backwards” just wasn’t clicking for me. Roger finally got up and mimicked a plane taking off and flying, including sound effects, that’s when I got it! They were always so proud when I caught on, but this time they were basically jumping up and down. It was adorable and still makes me laugh when I think about it.
What has been the most challenging part of your experience?
The emotional challenges that I encountered. A good example was my experience with primary interviews, which are the first meetings with women during the selection process. It was very difficult to see the living conditions and hear the stories of these women and their families. Up until this point I had only seen the progression, empowerment, and transformation of our women. After speaking with Gauthier and Hebert, I realized that this was the power of the program. We are able to help these women change their lives and the lives of their children. There were days that were draining and stressful, but every day in CLM is life-altering for the women that we help, and the emotional stress is nothing in the scheme of things.
What has been your favorite part of the experience?
First, for the graduation in Boukan Kare, Solita, Josiane, Sandra and I fixed hair and make-up for the 98 women who were graduating. These women had worked so hard to get to this point and were already strong, courageous, and beautiful. We just helped give them a little something extra as they celebrated their accomplishments and journey out of poverty.
Second would have to be working in the field as a case manager. There were a few weeks that Hebert and I took over for some of our case managers. One day were working in Martiniere’s zone when Hebert said something about me taking over, which I took as a joke. The next day I began working as a case manager with Hebert’s help and loved it. After a couple of visits, Hebert felt confident enough to leave me to work on my own. It was great to get to know the women better and to feel like I was a real part of their journey with CLM.
If you could sum up the CLM program in one sentence, what would it be?
CLM speaks for itself: Chemen Lavi Miyò, path to a better life.
What’s next for you after this?
A short break and then I’m off to grad school. I will be working towards a Masters in Development Practice at Trinity College and University College Dublin in September.
How will this experience impact you moving forward?
It has changed everything for me. It has shaped my focus for grad school, including my master’s thesis, which will revolve around the broader impact of the CLM program in the communities it has worked in and continues to work in. I will be coming back for another 5 months to collect data and I can’t wait! The CLM program, and my CLM family have also altered my plans for my future; they made Haiti home for me. When I finish my masters I will be back in Haiti to build a life and permanent roots. And again, I can’t wait!
My Visit to the Lenbe Branch
by Veronique Taluy, Communications Intern
Walking through the doors of the Lenbe live-in branch, I was immediately greeted by friendly and welcoming staff. I had traveled from Port au Prince with Dr. Florence Jean-Louis and Dr. Wesly Elize, members of our Human Development department, for a health training for our center chiefs. When we arrived, we saw a group of women assembled at the branch to repay their loans. If I could, in one word, describe my overall impression of the women at the Lenbe branch, I would have to say—dignified.
Generally, the poor are portrayed as miserable, begging, crying, and pleading, an understandable consequence of their extreme desperation. But they have been robbed of their dignity and are dehumanized, which only serves to strengthen an inferiority complex. They seldom receive the opportunity to tap into their personal capabilities as individuals to help themselves.
After spending the weekend at the Fonkoze Lenbe branch, I was able to see firsthand that forming groups of self-sustaining businesswomen creates a more respectful and honorable approach to the helping the poor.
I was proud to see my fellow Haitian women come together to better their lives. These women were regional center chiefs, each responsible for leading 20-plus Fonkoze women. As center chiefs, they are responsible for teaching their fellow clients all that they learned in the health training. They learned the uses and benefits of certain health products. They also learned the proper way to take certain medication and preventative measures for health safety.
Giving these women, who display leadership qualities, a leadership position in their community, augments their social and economic power. They now become the master of their own fate. I’ve noticed firsthand that Fonkoze’s impact on the community does not cripple these Haitian women. There is no giver-recipient relationship. Fonkoze has clients whom they aim to serve. This business relationship is based on trust. Fonkoze gives these Haitian women a boost without disempowering or humiliating them, creating producers, not beggars.
I was also so proud as a female to see these resilient and self-sustaining women. Virginia Woolf once said, “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” After interviewing several of these women and hearing their struggles and triumphs, I’ve seen the power of leaving anonymity behind and uncovering the importance and value of a woman.
Beyond the Economic Impact: A Credit Agent’s Take on Microfinance
See this post on Month of Microfinance’s Autobiographies of Microfinance!
Jean Jules Laguerre did not set out to work in microfinance—it found him. While still in high school, he met Fonkoze founder Father Joseph Philippe and agreed to help him with a literacy workshop. After the weekend-long event, Father Joseph invited Jules to his house, where he told him about Fonkoze, the bank for the organized poor that he had founded three years prior. He asked Jules if he would be interested in getting involved.
Jules said yes, and hasn’t looked back since. He started off working in the primary Port-au-Prince office, but soon began venturing out to the provinces to interview potential clients. He then moved to Saint Martin, where he began working as a credit agent.
He didn’t make much money (about 50 cents for each client he enrolled and $6 for each credit group), but as he says, “It wasn’t the salary that motivated me.” Like his colleagues, he believed in the power of microfinance to improve the lives of his fellow Haitians.
Jules has seen that power in action over the course of his career at Fonkoze. His most striking memory is of a group of five clients who could not afford the inscription fee to become Fonkoze borrowers. Jules and a few other credit agents decided to pay the $30 fee for them, allowing the women to join Fonkoze’s Solidarity lending program, which starts out with microfinance loans of $75.
Today, the same five women have become Madam Saras—distributors who travel to the United States, Panama, and China to buy goods for other ti machann to sell. He remembers with pride when they first asked him for help getting passports. “They told me, ‘It’s you who is our father, who guides us,’ ” Jules recalls. “Of all the clients I’ve worked with, it’s one example that really struck me.”
Jules, too, has progressed through the levels of Fonkoze’s microfinance lending. He now works as an SME credit agent, which distributes loans starting at $10,000.
His favorite part of his job is simply working with the clients. “They are sincere people,” he says. He loves hearing client testimonies, when the women explain how microfinance has helped not only themselves, but also their families and the other people in their areas.
Jules’ work has provided him with more than a career—it has been the foundation for his relationships. “Fonkoze has allowed me to meet really great people,” he says. Jules met his wife at Fonkoze in 1997, shortly after he started as a credit agent. Jules and Arlene, who worked in the Human Resources department, enjoyed seven years of marriage and fifteen years together in total. She died last year from complications due to lupus. It was a painful loss for the entire Fonkoze family. “She was truly a beautiful person,” Jules says.
Jules continues to devote himself to his work at Fonkoze, helping the institution to innovate on behalf of its clients. “True microfinance isn’t just about giving money and having it paid back,” he says. “It’s not only an economic impact; it has a social impact too.”
He explains the importance of listening to microfinance clients and taking their input into account. Fonkoze, for example, uses a call-in line called Rele Anmwe (Call on Me) to allow clients to ask questions and offer feedback whenever they have issues that can’t be solved at the branch level.
For Jules, it is part of what makes Fonkoze—and microfinance—unique. It allows people subjugated by society to recognize their own importance. “They experience success in their lives,” Jules says. For Jules, that success provides a powerful testament to his work.
Women: the Backbone of Society
by Mackenzie Keller, External Communications Specialist
In Haiti, women are often referred to as poto mitan. Literally, it means “middle pole”—the pillar of the house. Women act as the pillars of their families and, by extension, the backbone of society. They provide the economic and social stability needed to sustain their families and communities.
Often, however, Haitian women simply do not have the resources to support themselves or their families. Due to a variety of circumstances that have trapped them in poverty, many women in rural Haiti lack the means to act as poto mitan.
Fonkoze seeks to empower these women in a variety of ways: through lending programs that enable them to strengthen and expand their small businesses, through the provision of health and insurance services to allow them to recover quickly from unforeseen circumstances, and through an innovative program for the ultra-poor—Chemen Lavi Miyo (“the Road to a Better Life”).
The women who enter our Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program are the most vulnerable in Haitian society. They live in sub-standard shelter in rural societies, have multiple children, none of whom attend school, and struggle to feed their families. They have no productive assets, no skills, and perhaps worst of all—no self-esteem.
The CLM women are not yet ready for microloans. Instead, Fonkoze and our partner, KANPE, seeks to reinforce their capacity through an intensive 18-month program. It includes asset provision, health services provided by Partners in Health, business training, and one-on-one case manager guidance. In the process, participants are transformed, regaining their ability to act as poto mitan.
Women almost ready to graduate from the CLM program undergo a 3-day Confidence Building Training in order to ensure that they have the foundation to succeed in the long-term. The workshop reinforces the women’s self-confidence by helping them recognize and analyze their past successes.
International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to do this on a global scale—to recognize the incredible progress that women around the world have made since this day first came into creation over a hundred years ago. At the same time, much room for progress remains.
With the right tools, however, we believe that women can kanpe—stand up—and overcome their challenges. A group of 340 CLM members recently underwent Confidence Building Training in preparation for their graduation day. Fittingly, they are graduating on March 8. On this day of solidarity for women around the world, they are celebrating their ability to overcome adversity—both in the past, and in the future.
As CLM graduate Rose-Marie Assenne said, “The person that I was yesterday, I am not the same person any longer.” She explained how CLM taught her to engage in commerce, allowing her to leverage the two goats and a pig she received at the program’s start into four goats and a horse.
Perhaps more importantly, Rose-Marie and her fellow graduates now have the self-esteem to continue even when times are hard. It is a victory worth celebrating, not just in Haiti but with their sisters—their fellow poto mitan—around the world.
The full version of this post originally appeared on Steve Werlin’s blog on December 29, 2012.
Elimène lives in Fond Pierre Jacques, a hilly neighborhood just southeast of the town of Bay Tourib. The region has nothing but houses, trees, and farmland. Residents of Fond Pierre Jacques plant fields both there and in the unpopulated region further to the east.
In her interview to determine if she was a good candidate for the CLM program, Elimène revealed that she was making a small profit now and again, but she couldn’t sustain it. Whenever it came time for heavy agricultural work, the commerce would collapse. She wouldn’t have time to buy or sell. She’d drain it of capital to buy food for her family until harvest. And even then, they never had enough. They were always hungry until their crops came in. Even in good years, they might have stretches of several weeks when they had little to eat. In bad years, things could be much worse.
So we invited her to join CLM. She chose goats and a pig as her assets, and got right to work.
Goat rearing didn’t start very well. We gave her two goats, but they were small ones. One of them quickly became sick.
Elimène, however, was determined. “I struggled and struggled with it. It finally pulled through.”
The other was healthier, but they both were small when she received them. They have finally produced offspring, but it took much longer than it should have.
Pig rearing was more successful. It is risky business—mortality among pigs is relatively high. But it can be quite profitable when it works. Elimène’s pig managed to raise four piglets. She sold three of them, and is now raising the mother and a younger female. She chose to sell them very young. It is less profitable, but a lot less risky and a lot less work. Pigs require a lot of care. She figured she’d have an easier time if she wasn’t managing too many of them.
She took the money she got from selling two of the pigs and bought beans at harvest, when their price was low. She’s now storing them until planting season, when she’ll be able to sell them profitably.
Her biggest success, however, has been with small, regular commerce.
“They didn’t give me commerce, but Titon [her case manager] said I should try to start one if I could.” She talked to him about the tobacco business she once ran, and they agreed that she would try again. “You have to sell something that other people don’t sell. I’m the only tobacco seller in Bay Tourib.”
So she took some of the money that she had saved up from her weekly food stipend, added the money from the third piglet, and went to Hinche to buy. There, she discovered a new product.
“I always sold local, Haitian tobacco. But people were asking for the darker imported tobacco that they like to use for snuff. Now I sell both.”
She found that she could get a cup of prepared snuff in Hinche for 200 gourds, or about $5. But she could buy the unprocessed foreign tobacco it’s made from for half that much. She makes the snuff by drying the tobacco in the sun, and pounding it into a fine powder. She then discovered that she could cut her costs even further buy blending the darker tobacco with the less expensive local product.
Her tobacco business is now more profitable than it ever was and, just as importantly, she has come to see its fundamental importance. “I won’t ever let the business collapse again. Even if I can only sell on Saturdays and Sundays, I’ll keep it up because it means we always have food in the house.”
Elimène’s ambition is now larger than food on the table. She wants to start buying more land. As committed as she is to commerce, she really sees herself as a farmer. “Whatever you think I look like, I know how to work with a hoe and a sickle.” She wants more farmland so she can make more from her crops.
Her plan is simple: “I’ll keep taking good care of my animals, and put away money whenever I can. If you can sell a couple of goats or pigs, and can add some money from a harvest, you’ll already have enough to buy a small plot.” In a couple of months, she’ll buy a horse so she can get larger crops and the fruit from the trees in her yard to market, too. That will add a lot to her income.
It is pretty clear that Elimène is well on her way to a better life. She has solved her family’s hunger problem, and is looking to a future with an ambitious but very well-founded hope.