Home > Grameen, Haiti, microfinance, social entrepreneurship, Uncategorized > Paolo Freire, meet Muhammad Yunus (courtesy of Father Joseph)

Paolo Freire, meet Muhammad Yunus (courtesy of Father Joseph)

As we drove around Haiti last Tuesday (our first full day in the country), I was impressed by a few things.  One was that a lot of the rubble (and other evidence of the earthquake) has been cleared since I was last here in March 2010.  Reports that the capital in particular had been impervious to positive changes proved inaccurate.  Another was the proliferation of microfinance organizations here – in even mid-tiered cities we drove through, and in Okay where we stopped, there were quite a number of microfinance institutions with signboards and offices.  Still, Fonkoze is the leader in terms of number of loan and savings clients. 

But it is a leader in other ways as well.  It is launching a micro-insurance program that is being watched by the microfinance industry globally due to its scale and its innovative approach (more on that in future posts — including the fact that the first payouts to clients affected by recent flooding in this part of the country are being made this month).  Another way that Fonkoze leads is with its human development programs that are fully integrated with its microfinance offerings.  One of those, arguably the most important, is an adult education program that is based on the ideas of Brazilian educator and author Paulo Freire – where the poor are trained to educate their peers. 

Fonkoze clients in the solidarity program – the largest of the organization’s four borrowing levels in terms of number of clients – meet twice each month.  Once to conduct their financial transactions, and once to learn.  In the center meeting we went to yesterday, there were three groups.  Two were focused on the more advanced four-month module focused on business management best practices (led by specially trained clients), while one was the most basic module that is about learning to write your name – which for the women who never attended school (or only went for a year or two decades ago) is quite a challenge, and accomplishment once they master it.  The entire approach to literacy was, in the words of Steve Werlin, who has worked on it intensively from 2005 to 2009, “invented by [Fonkoze founder] Father Joseph, whole cloth.”  (Father Joseph is a Haitian Catholic Priest who spent several years studying how to bring economic empowerment to the rural areas, then conceptualized what was needed — a “bank for the organized poor” — and starting in 1995 began recruiting the team from Haiti and abroad to make it happen.  We visited him Saturday — more on that in future postings.)

Here is a very short video (under one minute, like all of those in this post) of one of the business development training sessions (an advanced module)  in action.  The woman in the purple hat doing most the talking is a peer trainer — she is a market vendor with a little more education than the others, who received training from Fonkoze to give instruction her fellow borrowers. 

Here you’ll see one woman going up to the chalkboard to write her name, and her peer educator standing beside her with encouragement and correction.  (You’ll hear the voices of others not in the picture.)  She is part of the group doing the basic literacy module (which like all the rest is four months in duration).

Finally, here is a video of Linda Boucard, our host who describes the power of simply learning to write ones name for the first time.

Clearly, Fonkoze is about more than just handing out loans – it is about using microfinance as a platform to catalyze self-discovery, self-empowerment and transformation.  It does not always work, as it like all human organizations is far from perfect, but its aspirations as well as its ability to execute its plans are quite impressive.  Telling its story seems, more than ever, to be a worthwhile challenge for me.

  1. June 27, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Inspiring stuff. I told my grandkids about moms learning to write their names because they’d never gotten to go to school. So interesting to watch them try to get their minds around this idea. Blessings and keep the stories coming.

  2. June 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Wow great post and nice video! I didn’t even notice you capturing it.

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