Update … and the Gender Issue (Part One)
Researching and writing a book on anything (much less on something as unique as Fonkoze) is a complex, intellectually stimulating and (at times) exhausting project – and one that I am finding difficult to move forward quickly now that I have resumed my day job as CEO of Grameen Foundation. (Last week was especially busy as Nobel Laureate and Grameen Bank founder Dr. Muhammad Yunus was in town. He mentioned to me, of all things, that he is planning his first-ever trip to Haiti in October!)
However, I do continue to make progress. Since returning to work I have conducted several more interviews, including one with an official at the Inter-American Development Bank who, together with several colleagues, was instrumental in arranging to have $2 million in small bills airlifted to Haiti ten days after the earthquake – ensuring liquidity (i.e., sufficient cash) for Fonkoze and its clients at a critical time. It was funny to see the map – one designed for tourists (!) with various cheesy ads circling Haiti – that had been marked up late one night to identify the drop sites for the bundles of cash ($200,000 each).
I have been working with some advisors who have the expertise and passion needed to give this book the best chance to be a best-seller. My book proposal – basically a 10-15 page case for why the books is needed and why it will sell – is coming along and the all-important sample chapter (most likely the one on the immediate aftermath of the earthquake) will be drafted next Monday (hopefully!). I’ll be spending two intensive days with one of those advisors in late August. One of my assignments in advance of that workshop is to think (if not write) about what I found most surprising about Fonkoze and the key people involved with it. Perhaps I’ll post what I come up with on the blog late next week.
In addition, I am reading everything I can related to Fonkoze and Haiti, including Paul Farmer’s new book Haiti: After the Earthquake and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (which was, and is, very influential on Fonkoze’s adult education programs aimed at clients). I just read a memo about the impact of the return of cholera has had on Fonkoze branches this summer; it’s very sad how some victims are ostracized in their communities even after they recover. I have a (yet unread) stack of archives related to the kidnapping and murder of beloved Fonkoze employee Amos Jeannot in 2000. Also, I am looking to reinvigorate my “digital street team” and expand its ranks beyond the 30 who have signed up, and build on the positive relationship established between this project/blog and the social media teams at Fonkoze, Grameen Foundation and the Center for Financial Inclusion. (Thanks to everyone at those three organizations — all of which I am proudly affiliated with — who have taken such a strong interest, and also to the street team!).
Finally, I have been talking to anyone who will listen about my impressions of Fonkoze/Haiti. One of the recurrent themes has been my fascination with the dynamic that I believe gets created with the vast majority of the top 10-15 leaders in a large organization are women — as is the case with Fonkoze. Let me offer some tentative reflections. My sense is that even when the CEO of an organization is female, if the top 10-20 jobs are largely held by men, the institutional norms remain shaped by how men interact with each other – which most of us just think of “normal” organizational culture. In fact, I presume that many high-achieving women in countries rich and poor, whether in the corporate or non-profit sector or academia, adopt – perhaps subconsciously – ways of operating that are masculine in order to fit in with others on the fast track. Fonkoze feels to me like an alternate universe – one where feminine values dominate and the men need to adapt. I am not in a position to say whether those values are better – though I find them both disorienting and refreshing – but I am coming to see them as essential to understanding Fonkoze and its track record in the context of Haitian microfinance and poverty reduction efforts.
This exploration has raised a question in my mind – how many organizations in the world today have (a) more than 800 employees and/or (b) are the leading organization in their field in their country (Fonkoze/SFF combined is both) and have the following two characteristics: a female CEO and more than three-quarters of the top 10-15 positions filled by women? The number is probably very small. In a world where unnecessary war and political/economic/social conflict seem to be exacerbated if not caused by the male ego run amuck, Fonkoze may have much to teach us about an alternative to “normal” organization culture that is at least as interesting as its pioneering work in microfinance.
While I probably lack training in fields like organizational development, anthropology and gender studies needed to offer truly profound reflections on this issue, I will nonetheless be returning to it in a blog that I hope to post in the next few days. Stay tuned!
And please continue sending your comments, ideas and critiques — they are helping me to improve my thinking and writing.