As I wrap up my first trip (of two) to Haiti this summer (and my fifth since 2006), and deal with information overload, I thought it would be good to boil down my experience to ten reflections, and then close with a two minute video of Father Joseph that builds on two of them.
- My early – and, as it turned out, too hopeful — observation in this blog that the post-earthquake rebuilding in Port au Prince was going on better than portrayed in the media seems naive now that I have spent more time in the capital. While there are tiny pockets of rubble clearing and even rebuilding, for the most part one still sees collapsed buildings, big piles of rubble, and little if any effort to address these issues. (One wonders whether that will be the case in even five or ten years!)
- Several people mentioned that the influx of international NGOs and the U.N. has left Haitians, from the poor to educated professionals, feeling “disempowered in their own country.” (One of the good parts of this is that it has led some talented and disillusioned people to Fonkoze!)
- After being impressed with the management team that Fonkoze assembled in 2009, I observed how talent attracts talent — and that there was a second wave of very sharp, experienced and committed individuals joining the organization in 2010 and 2011. And somehow, they seem to be fitting in well with those who joined early, including the “original staff” who go back to the late 1990s. Now, the challenge is to figure out how to pay for all this talent!
- Even adjusting for people “telling the visitor what they think he wants to hear,” the clients of Fonkoze appear much more attached to their organization, despite its many shortcomings, than is the case with other microfinance institutions around the world I have visited. Yes, they really seem to feel it is their organization (and indeed in many ways it is, since it is membership based).
- Not surprisingly, there are a series of tensions pulling at Fonkoze, some of which have to do with there being opportunities galore for an organization with such a good reputation and a nationwide network of branches with trained staff and Internet connections. How to respond to those opportunities while keeping minimum quality control on products/brand and also staying true to Father Joseph’s vision of Fonkoze supporting local grassroots organizations will be a real test in the months and years ahead.
- Haitian culture is quite different from American culture — no doubt about it! The foreigners who fit in here adapt (as I did to some extent in Bangladesh when I lived there). For example, they greet absolutely everyone with a kiss or handshake when entering a room (even with a lot of people!). It takes a lot of time, but it is noticed. I mostly failed this test — too busy. (So American!)
- Recently-elected President Martelly had his nominee for Prime Minister, who seems universally respected for his integrity and ability to get things done, rejected by the Parliament (despite the President’s 67% approval rating). This cast a pall over the country and those who had high hopes for the new Administration.
- The commitment to monitoring social benefit to clients is remarkable – how that will continue under new leadership of the department responsible for this is an open question but people seem hopeful. I was pleased to see that my colleagues at Grameen Foundation (working in our Social Performance Management Center) are actively engaged in supporting this department (and have been for some time) and that their input seems valued.
- I wonder: how much does the relative harmoniousness between old guard and new, the high paid and lower paid, and the expats, Haitians and Haitian-Americans, have to do with this being a clearly matriarchal family of organizations?
- How do people keep going here, day in and day out? I am thinking of both the poor and also the professionals working in Haiti. With so many setbacks and the still super-visible devastation from the earthquake in the capital and many nearby areas, I could easily imagine just losing hope.
Now the video which picks up on points #4 and #5 above.
One of the things that has troubled me about microfinance in places like India is that when local government bureaucrats and politicians attacked microfinance, the clients rarely stood up to defend their micro-lenders. With Fonkoze, that seems to be different. In this short video, Father Joseph talks about how Fonkoze is a “people’s organization” and mentions how thugs had attacked branches on more than two occasions, only to be rebuffed by clients. Also, you can see him struggling in the second part of the video with how many directions Fonkoze is being pulled in, and how supporting grassroots organizations like his beloved APF is falling off the radar.
Considering how grassroots organizations have not been supported by the massive, foreigner-driven relief and rebuilding effort (with notable exceptions like American Jewish World Service), this neglect even by Fonkoze seems to weigh on him. Yet, God bless him, he does not seem to be tempted to interfere – rather, he just offers his suggestions and encouragement. And on the organization goes! Lots to think about between now and my return July 18…