Alex Counts is the President and CEO of Grameen Foundation.
I didn’t know what to expect when my plane approached Port au Prince, Haiti, a little more than one week ago. Like many people around the world, I had been working hard to help Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance institution, since it was devastated by the January 12 earthquake. I acted in my capacities as President of Grameen Foundation, which has a long-standing relationship with Fonkoze, and as the volunteer Chairman of Fonkoze USA.
Some of the reports I’d received from Fonkoze after the earthquake were depressing: food and fuel shortages, growing death tolls of Fonkoze staff and clients, homes and businesses destroyed, survivors enduring maddeningly slow recovery from injuries (their progress often stunted due to intensive work against doctor’s orders). Others reports were inspirational: the U.S. military’s heroic, James Bond-esque effort in the dead of night to transport $2 million in cash from the US to Fonkoze’s 40 branches via helicopters (so that clients could withdraw savings and remittances), the successful pilot of a “mobile branch in a van,” and, above all, the tower of strength that Anne Hastings and her team displayed to me and millions of others once communications were restored and a plan for recovery could be developed and shared.
With your generous support, our first priority was to provide small grants for transitional housing for Fonkoze staff that had lost their homes. Without such support, it was understandably difficult for Fonkoze’s staff (many of whom were left homeless) to focus on the work at hand. Grameen Foundation’s Regional CEO Alberto Solano led our efforts to finalize how your dollars can make the greatest impact on Haiti’s rebuilding process. Although your quick response to our call to help Haiti was gratifying, I know one thing for sure: we have more good ideas than we have funds available to implement them.