CLM: Origins, and Some Great Writing (Steve’s Blog)
One of the most remarkable, complicated and controversial programs of Fonkoze is Chemen Lavi Miyo (CLM), which is Creole for “Pathway to a Better Life.” It seems to have originated over a series of conversations Anne Hastings had with her staff and advisors (including Sharmi Sobhan whom I interviewed yesterday) in 2005, and that culminated in a “summit” in November of that year where people from three continents with expertise in assisting the “ultra poor” through variations on microfinance were assembled in Haiti to advise Fonkoze on serving the poorest of the poor.
The progress of the “summit” was reported daily through the internet, and many of us who received the updates were at a microfinance conference at the United Nations in New York whose speeches and proceedings seemed increasingly irrelevant when compared to Fonkoze’s working session that included fieldwork and vigorous debate.
What emerged from that discernment process was Fonkoze’s adaptation of the “targeting the ultra poor program” of BRAC, one of the leading microfinance institutions of Bangladesh and the largest NGO in the world. (Grameen Bank and Grameen Foundation had senior representatives present at the summit to describe GB’s Struggling Members Program that targets rural beggars, which was thought to be less relevant to the Haitian reality than BRAC’s version. However, Grameen has been influential on Fonkoze in other ways, such as the reorganization of the solidarity groups in 2001-2 based on recommendations of a technical advisor who stayed in Haiti for almost a year.) BRAC has played an active role throughout in helping Fonkoze adapt their model to the Haitian reality.
The specifics of how CLM works will be the subject of another post in this blog, and obviously it will be covered in some detail in my book. Philosophically, it embodies the ideas of Robert Chambers, a British development theorist whose book, Rural Development: Putting the Last First, had an impact on me when I was studying at Cornell in the 1980s. The basic idea is that even in international poverty alleviation efforts, there are strong biases to assist the (relatively) more advantaged poor, and to neglect the poorest – and that counteracting that tendency requires major and sustained effort to overcome in-built professional biases and vested interests. (I am going to re-read this book as I prepare to write mine, and am now reading his later book, Whose Reality Counts: Putting the First Last.)
Fonkoze has been assisted in rolling out CLM by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (a multi-donor effort housed at the World Bank), Mastercard Foundation, Fonkoze USA (whose board I chair), the Haitian Timoun Foundation and many others. CGAP in particular provided important early support in response to an appeal by Fonkoze (whose discussions with BRAC on this concept predate any formal involvement by CGAP). Later, with the Ford Foundation, CGAP helped another 10 or so other organizations replicate BRAC’s program in various countries around the world, and enabled them (and Fonkoze) to learn from each other as they experimented and refined the approach.
Earlier in my blog I mentioned Steve Werlin, the intrepid American “jack of all trades” who has been working with Fonkoze in Haiti more or less full-time since 2005. For years he has been writing a blog about his work there. In the past he wrote about Fonkoze’s adult education program that he ran, and later about his efforts to revive the Marigot branch – a branch that will likely be featured in my book (in part since that choice will allow me to draw on his nearly two years of writings about it).
For the past nine months, he has been writing about his work as a regional manager of CLM. His postings, like this one that was just released (with good photos as is often the case with Steve’s blogging), are refreshingly free of jargon and honest about the challenges and setbacks the program and its clients experience.
By way of background, CLM clients participate for 18 to 24 months and then graduate to more advanced and commercially oriented products Fonkoze offers. Fonkoze has helpfully articulated the concept of a staircase out of poverty based on the idea of different product mixes for people in different levels of poverty, and CLM is the bottom step.
For anyone wanting to understand Fonkoze, Haiti and rural development, I think that Steve’s blog is essential reading. His past posts – usually 400-1,000 words in length – are reasonably well organized and it is worthwhile subscribing and going through the archives. The blog is managed by Shimer College, which has been Steve’s host academic institution for years and supports his work in Haiti in various ways.