This is the second part of a two-part publication of excerpts of my draft article on Fonkoze that will be a precursor to my book that profiles Anne Hastings, the CEO of Fonkoze Financial Services.
Born into a Virginian family of loud, hard-drinking types, during her youth Hastings went through periods of intense dedication to certain activities and people. Adult women who served as mentors and role models were a particular fascination. Objects of interest would come and go, without warning or explanation. Even today she is at a loss to explain how she could be so devoted to horseback riding for years and then suddenly lose her passion for it.
Her first quarter century of adulthood had its share of sharp turns and contradictions. Her first marriage consisted mainly of forays into the deep south for union organizing with her husband. (Later she found out, through a Freedom of Information Act request, that the FBI was tracking her during this period and interviewed at least one of her relatives.)
Her son Corey was born and raised in a remarkably permissive style, even by the standards of the 1960s. Later, after her second marriage fell apart, she temporarily abandoned social justice work and started doing management consulting for Washington, DC-area corporations, including a few defense contractors. In one of those engagements she came across a low-key but effective consultant named John Scanlon, and the two combined their practices and worked happily together for years. For the first time, Hastings began accumulating material possessions to an extent that would have shocked people close to her in earlier as well as later eras of her life.
Around 1995, Hastings started telling Scanlon and other confidants that she felt needed to move in an entirely new direction. She mentioned the Peace Corps as a likely destination. Everyone she remembers consulting was supportive, which seemed to surprise her. While preparing her application to be a volunteer, a Peace Corps recruiter suggested that before she committed to join the Corps she contact Father Joseph Philippe, a Haitian Priest who was doing innovative work to uplift the rural poor.
Somehow her resume reached him a few weeks later.
Philippe knew that he needed a dynamic leader for his fledgling microfinance institution callled Fonkoze that took a decidedly holistic approach — one that he had started as an outgrowth of his original grassroots organization, the Peasants Association of Fondwa. Ideally, he was looking for a banker fluent in Creole and English who could attract the needed talent and capital and work for free, at least for an initial period. Unlike Yunus, it was not important that the individual to lead Fonkoze be Haitian. For him, Christian brotherhood/sisterhood trumped nationalism. Anyone willing to work for the poor of Haiti was welcome to roll up their sleeves and move his ideas forward.
When Hastings’ resume came across his desk, he saw that she did not fit the profile. She was a consultant, not a banker, who spoke no Creole and didn’t even know French. But he played a hunch that he had found his leader. Tapping into his impulsive and playful tendencies, he called her up and left a voicemail. The message informed Anne Hastings that she had been appointed the director of Fonkoze with immediate effect.
Below is an update on my book project and then the first of four blogs about Anne Hastings. The other three will be posted over the next week.
It has been a long time since I posted on my blog. Fear not: progress is being made on the book on Fonkoze. I spent the last week of December and the first couple of weeks of January working on my “long form article” that my agent suggested would be a good way to whet the reading public’s appetite for the book. This would ideally be published in something like the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker or the New York Times magazine. The length of these articles can be 10,000 words or in some cases up to 15,000. I wrote a draft that weighs in at 22,000 (!) words, showed it to a friend who I trusted would tell me if I was on to something (she said I was), and now have sent it to my agent.
Anne Hastings’ slight build and elegant though modest dress can be deceiving. She is a hard-driving woman prone to occasional outbursts, though laughter comes easily at times to this extrovert. Her intense stare softens somewhat after a few glasses of wine.
Common words used to describe her are courageous, diligent and tough. She would need all of those qualities in the days and weeks following the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Frequently, her accomplishments and stamina would leave her colleagues and those in supporting organizations astonished. Many would report that her leadership by example, especially in the hours and weeks after the temblor, spurred them to maximum effort.
It is not clear how Hastings built up these capabilities and vast reserves of energy. The suddenness of an earthquake does not leave time to prepare. One only reacts. Those of us who have never been thrust into such a life-and-death situation can only wonder how we would cope, whether we would be a leader or a coward.
Haiti is not for the timid, especially if one hopes to accomplish anything tangible much less long-lasting. After being recruited by a charismatic priest to run Fonkoze, which has become the leading microfinance institution of Haiti, Hastings rapidly taught herself Creole and threw herself into building the organization so it could one day serve tens of thousands of this nation’s most marginalized women. Ideas that appealed to her as promising were pursued relentlessly. Obstacles and threats were confronted directly, without hesitation and at times with an abrasiveness that Haiti infuses and requires.
Amos Jeannot, a beloved colleague, was abducted in the Hastings’ fourth year in Haiti. She was on a short trip abroad at the time, but on hearing the news rushed back to mobilize a massive and highly public campaign to search for Amos and his captors. The kidnappers’ called only once with a single demand: that Hastings close Fonkoze and leave the country.
Six days after the abduction, Amos’ corpse that bore obvious signs of torture and mutilation was discovered at the Port au Prince morgue. (Colleagues were able to identify him conclusively through his t-shirt, which they recognized.) Hastings went back to the morgue with a photographer to make sure they had photos of his corpse. She then organized the funeral and signaled her commitment to remain in Haiti, where she has been based ever since. Even after that episode, she travels without a bodyguard (though a pleasant and hapless formerly unemployed man from her neighborhood runs errands for her and accompanies her at night lest her aggressive driving require a flat tire to be changed).
On another occasion, an armed man burst into the head office – prompting Fonkoze’s overmatched security guard to lock himself in the bathroom. The robber escaped with $50,000. Hours later, Hastings figured out who the thief was and marched, unarmed, to his home in one of the capital’s worst slums. Finding only his wife and two children, she convinced them to leave their home and stay with her as leverage to convince the robber to give the money back (which Hastings convinced them would benefit everyone involved). They stayed at a hastily identified safe house for four days before leaving. She arranged that they be fed better than they had been in years. The robber never called for them. When they asked to go home, Hastings deliverered them back with money in their pockets.