January 29, 2010
Alberto Solano joined Grameen Foundation in October 2009 and provides leadership and management oversight for our portfolio and activities across the Americas. He is leading our economic recovery efforts in Haiti.
Today, Leigh Carter (Executive Director of Fonkoze USA) and I gave a briefing about the current situation and role of microfinance in economic recovery efforts in Haiti. I also spoke about the role that microfinance plays in relief and recovery efforts after natural disasters and Grameen Foundation's work in the Americas region.
Leigh currently serves as Executive Director and CFO of Fonkoze USA, which is the US-based support partner of FONKOZE. Leigh provided an overview of Fonkoze, the current situation in Haiti and its long relationship with Grameen Foundation.
Below, I’ve outlined the key-take aways from both presentations. You can view the presentation at the bottom of our Americas page :
Current Situation on the Ground in Haiti (Leigh Carter, Fonkoze USA):
- Fonkoze is Haiti's “alternative bank for Haiti’s organized poor.” It is the largest microfinance institution (MFI) in Haiti and a partner of Grameen Foundation.
- Leigh was in Port-au-Prince during the earthquake where she injured her back jumping from a second-story building while it was collapsing; she is currently recovering. Five Fonkoze employees died in the quake, thirty-seven employees lost their homes and many employees lost members of their families and friends.
- As of today, Leigh reported that Fonkoze Haiti has 38 of 42 branches open for business and a temporary headquarters. The Port-au-Prince branch is operating outside but is operational.
- A five-point plan is posted on the Fonkoze website (http://www.fonkoze.org/); I encourage you to read it for status updates. The plan includes helping staff members return to work so that they can stabilize their own lives and continue to serve their borrowers, facilitating remittances, acquiring equipment and facilities to replace what was destroyed, and providing financial resources and assistance to clients who have lost their homes.
Next Steps in Haiti and the Americas (Alberto Solano, Grameen Foundation):
I addressed Grameen Foundation’s next steps in Haiti:
- A $50,000 check was given to Fonkoze to support their efforts listed above.
- We will conduct a site visit to assess the microfinance infrastructure of our partners, and work with them to determine the best strategies possible to assist the people and help support the implementation of recovery efforts.
I discussed the role of microfinance to aid in economic recovery after natural disasters occur, the differences between relief and recovery efforts, and the lessons learned from those microfinance institutions involved in post-natural disaster activities in Indonesia, Nicaragua and Honduras. I am grateful to Erin Connor, a Grameen Foundation Program Officer, who shared the lessons she learned during the tsunami recovery efforts in Indonesia.
- Relief efforts – Relief efforts are short-term interventions that provide humanitarian assistance. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) can play an effective role during relief efforts by addressing immediate needs and providing care for its employees and by reassuring clients that their savings and deposits are safe. When MFIs have a presence in remote locations where humanitarian relief may not reach the communities as quickly, MFIs can act as information centers to inform authorities about the situation within the communities, coordinate the distribution of supplies, etc. When Hurricane Mitch struck Nicaragua in 1998, MFIs played a key role in relief efforts.
- Recovery efforts – Recovery efforts focus on rebuilding the livelihoods of affected communities by restoring basic services, ensuring security and keeping the economy going. At this stage, the MFI should maintain assurances that funds are still secure and provide access to remittances. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) should keep normal procedures during this time in order to successfully rebuild the economy; we know that write-offs may occur but we only expect that in the worst case scenarios. It is also important to continue to work with local institutions rather than sending funds to new organizations; partnering with established organizations that already know Haiti and maintain geographic diversity in the country will be able to assist recovery more quickly.
There has been tremendous support for immediate and much needed relief efforts, but far less attention on long-term recovery and development activities that are also critical in rebuilding the country and rebuilding lives. Grameen Foundation’s next steps in Haiti will focus on recovery efforts.
Next, I communicated the need in the Americas region which I oversee. The need is great --over ninety-four million individuals live below $2 per day. Sixty percent of the region’s extremely poor individuals live in rural areas. Our mission is to reach the poorest of the poor – including the rural poor that live in extreme poverty – and break barriers with technology and microfinance. You can read more about our work and progress in the region http://www.grameenfoundation.org/where-we-work/americas. We hope to continue our local efforts by being closer to clients and partnering with other organizations on the ground. We will continue to offer a portfolio of products and services that align with our mission.
It was great having Leigh join us today to discuss Haiti and to provide an overview of the challenges that lie ahead. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss our work and progress in the Americas and Haiti in more detail. Please leave your comments below.