Clay Feet, Moments of Truth, and Progress
I will do everything possible to ensure that my book does not fall into the traps of simplifying Fonkoze‘s story into some kind of fairy tale where it can do no wrong,or “hero worship” regarding its leaders. (This week my wife has been reading “Mountains beyond Mountains”, which I originally thought would be a model for my book. She and I agree that it has many strengths, but disappoints both of us because its remarkable author lost any real sense of objectivity about Paul Farmer.)
I think a book reflecting complexities, tensions, setbacks and human frailty/clay feet will be much more interesting. Most of the time, Fonkoze staff are remarkably candid about where they fall short, individually and collectively. Hubris has not really set in here, at least not yet! Last night over dinner with three of the organization’s leaders, I heard many of the things typical of entrepreneurial non-profits — systems not keeping up with programs (some launched on the fly when an opportunity arose), staff voicing dissatisfaction with this policy or that, outsiders whose influence on the organization was a matter of some dispute and/or controversy, and so on. I am glad that the people of Fonkoze are so open with me, and I will do my best to put all of this in the proper context.
As I have probed into the history of Fonkoze and how it became the organization it is today, I have found a number of turning points (and hope to find more). One was the kidnapping, torture and tragic killing of beloved employee Amos Jeannot in 2000, and its aftermath. Another was the assembling of an top notch management team during the second half of 2009. A third, not surprisingly, was the 2010 earthquake and what followed. Just yesterday I heard several dramatic stories about the days immediately after the earthquake:
- Two days after the earthquake, a senior Fonkoze staff member who was in a state of shock/depression gets a call from a branch in a far-flung province, saying they are open for business to customers and awaiting further instructions — and it jolts her back into action!
- During an prayer/memorial service outside the damaged Fonkoze building four days after the earthquake, there is a strong aftershock and one employee starts running away from the group in a panic. Anne Hastings yells out at him, saying — with a mixture of anger, compassion and urgency — that he and the organization were not going to be afraid and needed to be courageous and move Fonkoze forward. And it somehow, Anne’s spontaneous and impassioned plea seems to have worked!
- Natacha Blanc, the Haitian-American director of Transfer Services, defied her family’s pleas to come to Miami with her three-year-old son and instead stayed in order to steady what remained of her team (three of he four employees were killed) and also found a school bus to go to Leogane (about an hour away), navigating dead bodies all over the road, in order to pick up 80 children in a youth group/orphanage she volunteered for and bring them back to Port au Prince since they were injured, hungry, etc., and then set them up in tents (received a few weeks earlier for a planned camping trip!). In her “spare time” she provided translation services for a health clinic staffed with foreign doctors who had arrived in the days after the disaster.
As I piece together the post-earthquake journey of Fonkoze, I get the sense of many people finding stores of energy and courage that they may not have known they had. In some ways this must be typical of what happens after a disaster of this scale. But Fonkoze is far from typical! Anyway, it’s going to be a challenging story to tell. I think it will be the basis of the “sample chapter” I write as part of my book proposal.
By the way, with the support of Grameen Foundation‘s top notch fund-raising department, I just got a grant yesterday that pays for a big part of the costs of hiring an advisor who specializes in coaching authors to make their books into best-sellers (he is a best-selling author himself). Progress!
And my team of volunteer advisors who are helping to create buzz about the book through social media has nearly 30 members and we have set up a listserv to make it easy for them to communicate. What fun!
- Review of “To Fool The Rain”
- A Tribute To Matt Balitsaris
- The Success of Graduation Programs for the Ultra Poor, Microcredit, and Fonkoze
- Reflections on Haiti, Five Years After the Big Earthquake
- Building, Brick by Brick
- Lean Research – Is It Time to Reimagine the Study of Financial Inclusion?
- The Start of a Movement for “Lean Research”?
- Sensible Microfinance Research, Findings and Media Coverage
- CRECER recognized as Truelift Leader
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