The “Behind the Scenes” Gang
Yesterday I spent my day with some of the people who keep Fonkoze executing on its plans, day-in and day-out, often far behind the scenes. In the Port-au-Prince branch office, which has limited lending activities (only two credit agents) but extensive remittance transfer/payment and savings programs (and as a result the highest number of tellers of any Fonkoze branch), I met with the two zonal managers who together oversee all 45 branches nationwide. One of the two, Myriam Narcisse, is an impressive woman by any standard. She previously ran Fonkoze’s adult education program nationally, speaks English fluently despite never studying abroad (she credits her high school teachers for this skill), and has a soft-spoken directness about her that makes conversation a pleasure. The other zonal manager, Marlise Voltaire, is much less comfortable in English so Myriam translated for her.
Here is a photo of the two zonal managers and my wife Emily who was with me here in Haiti through yesterday afternoon:
The two women share a small office that belies their influence over the organization’s ability to execute. We explored many topics, including Myriam’s true love – the adult education or “literacy” program. She described how better educated center members are given a five-day intensive course that prepares them to deliver four month modules on basic literacy, intermediate literacy, business development, sexual and reproductive health and other topics (there are six and soon to be seven modules in all). She sees the benefits of this program, which costs $25 per client per module to deliver, as a mixture of skills development, empowerment and facilitated knowledge sharing amongst the clients themselves. Like most Fonkoze staff, she deflects credit and attention to others – in the case of the adult ed program, mainly to Steve Werlin.
Here she talks for 65 seconds about Fonkoze’s literacy program.
Later in the day I met with Jean Alexandre Hector. One of the first ten employees of Fonkoze, today he is the problem-solver/negotiator in chief (his official title is “Charge de Mission”). He is the person the organization calls on to sort out the stickiest issues with vendors, street gangs, competitors, you name it! Everything about him screams, “Execution!” As in, getting things done. With the help of a translator who helped Alexandre overcome his modesty, he explained how Fonkoze was able to successfully implement a contract to deliver “cash for work” payments to laborers inside the notorious and (particularly at the time) lawless slum Cite Soleil in 2006.
How did he do it? He didn’t adopt the strategy of the UN or large aid donors (i.e., going in with a show of force to intimidate the gangs). Rather, he spoke to them, one by one, explaining why they were going to do this and how it would help the people to deliver their money to their doorsteps, without fraud or corruption that reduced their payments (and purchasing power). Within a few weeks, Fonkoze’s staff was entering Cite Soleil with bags of money (usually thousands of dollars in all), distributing them to people who had earned them doing public works, and leaving without a hitch.
I am not sure where Myriam, Marlise and Alexandre will fit in to my book, but they are clearly essential to the forward movement of Fonkoze, especially in this era of rapid growth and diversification. The organization’s ability to deliver on its promises to clients and external stakeholders rests in large measure on the shoulders of a handful of people, including these three. It is more clear than ever that this is not a “one man” or “one woman” show! Which makes telling its story more complex, interesting and challenging…