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In A Broken City, Fonkoze Stands >

Leah Nedderman
• Posted in Fonkoze, Haiti, microfinance, poverty

One of the most urgent problems facing Haiti is the rising price of goods, exacerbated by a shortage of cash in the country. National banks have been slow to open, and even slower to make significant sums of cash available to other financial institutions in the country. One of my Haitian friends wrote on Saturday: “Thanks to God I am still alive but I have a lot of friend died [sic]. My house broke down and I am sleeping around the street with no money to buy food I do my best to stay alive.”

In a broken city, Fonkoze stands. The largest microfinance institution in Haiti, Fonkoze serves over 200,000 people with credit, savings, money transfer, and adult education. Of these services, Haitians and their families living abroad have been most concerned with money transfer. Food, water, and other essentials are for sale in Port-au-Prince—the question is how to get cash to buy these goods. Fonkoze has answered, opening 34 out of 40 branches throughout the country last week, paying out cash transfers and reporting that customers can use any of three services—Moneygram, Unitransfer, or CAM.

Fonkoze is no stranger to disaster. After joining the Fonkoze staff in 2008, I discovered that in its fourteen years of existence, the institution had endured political upheaval, staff kidnappings and torture, opposition from competitors, and myriad other struggles. Yet, the institution stood. Later that year, I witnessed Fonkoze recover from hurricanes and tropical storms by adjusting its loan products to accommodate almost 14,000 clients who had lost their businesses and other possessions in the floods. I remember hearing from one client: “I thank God that Fonkoze stands with me when I have nothing.”

The day after this month’s earthquake, co-founder and Fonkoze Director Anne Hastings joined colleagues at the site of the ruined Fonkoze headquarters to assess the damage. Brave staff ventured back into the building, salvaging thousands of dollars of equipment and records. Anne and others located temporary office space and contacted banks and U.S. government agencies to secure cash deliveries to Fonkoze’s branches.

Fonkoze’s employees are back to work. They are heroes—working through grief and loss. Natacha Blanc, head of transfer services, lost three of her five staff. A branch director in Miragwan opened his office, despite losing his mother and niece. Alexandre Hector, director of operations, returned to work even though his family lost their newly constructed home. These are not people with deep resources—they are not vastly better off than the clients that they serve. But they have chosen to stand.

Fonkoze will need tremendous support to completely rebuild. That support has already started to flow, and shows no signs of stopping. Fonkoze’s long-term vision to stand with the unbanked poor will not be obstructed by the earthquake and its aftermath.

Leah Nedderman is a guest blogger on the Progress out of Poverty blog. As the former Director of Social Performance Management at Fonkoze in Haiti, she gives us a unique perspective of working in the field and the role of microfinance in poverty alleviation.