Haiti womens micro-lending bank brings big cash to rescue

Woman entrepreneur Port-au-Prince
Woman entrepreneur re-sets up her food business against odds after the earthquake devestates Port-au-Prince. Image: InsideDisaster.com, 10 January, 2010

It also serves as a vendor for three other remittance services that still operate after the earthquake: MoneyGram, CAM and Unitransfer. The process is a lifeline for a country where, in 2007, 79 percent of Haitians lived on less than $2 a day and 55 percent lived on half that.

Fonkoze’s micro-lending program has four different levels. The first step is for the poorest of the poor and may involve home repairs and health care, as well as building the confidence of the women as they plan to start a micro-enterprise. Next the women may qualify for small loans — perhaps only $25 — with a short repayment period, while they enroll in literacy classes. In Haiti, more than 50 percent of people are illiterate.

The third level is the core: a “solidarity” group in which friends take out loans together, then morph into credit centers of 30 to 40 women. These women can start out borrowing $75, but if they prosper they can borrow up to $1,300 for six months.

The fourth level focuses on business development. Some women in this group borrow up to $25,000 and are being nurtured to become part of the formal economy, creating jobs in rural areas where there are few employment opportunities.

It isn’t the first time that a micro-lending network of mostly women has taken a lead role in helping rebuild a country’s economy after a natural disaster. In Poland, after a devastating flood in the mid-1990s, the U.S.-backed Fundusz Mikro became the conduit for credit to small businesses, ultimately funneling more than $10 million to rebuild when the central government proved inept and also tone-deaf to the challenge.

Leigh Carter, who broke several vertebrae in her back getting out of the Fonkoze headquarters building during the earthquake and was airlifted out days later, is back at work in Washington. She says multinational economic and financial leaders already are talking to Fonkoze about ways to use their extensive network of micro-lending programs for programs to rebuild the Haitian economic base.

“People are coming to us saying ‘you need to expand your capacity,’” she said.

But first things first: the immediate priority had to be getting cash to its members, throughout Haiti, from their friends and relatives abroad, which in itself expands members ability to survive and rebuild.

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[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6hdLuSCfzg]

Fonkoze has had strong success working with microfinance programs to improve lives of suffering women and their families. This program, Chemen Lavi Miyo, which means “Pathway to a Better Life” in Haitian creole, is testing a new approach to helping those living in extreme poverty to transition into a sustainable way of life.

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Journalist Peggy Simpson worked 17 years for the Associated Press, in Texas and Washington, D.C.; covered economics and politics for the Hearst Newspapers, served as Washington bureau chief for Ms. magazine and reported on East Europe as a freelancer during the 1990s. She has taught at Indiana University, George Washington University and the American Studies Center at Warsaw University. She currently is a freelance writer in Washington D.C.

This Women News Network news feature on Haiti is brought to you through a WNN partnership with the WMC – Women’s Media Center. Additional media materials for this article has been provided by Women News Network – WNN
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