Haiti’s Leadership, and the People Factor
Some years ago I was in a discussion with Anne Hastings in northern Haiti about Fonkoze. Our chat veered from fund-raising challenges to organizational purpose. It was wide-ranging and I think some white wine was involved. Anyway, Anne (who I profiled in four blog posts that began with this one) was talking about many of the things that Fonkoze was pioneering on the ground in Haiti, and also about the international task forces she was participating in at the time. At one point I said something like, “We all know that Fonkoze is not simply a microfinance institution for Haiti’s poor. At its best it is a comprehensive solution that includes but goes far beyond, but includes, financial services. But what I think we fail to appreciate is how much Fonkoze has become a ‘center of excellence’ for developing effective poverty reduction solutions that can be applied globally.” Anne was taken by the idea and even tried to fund-raise based on it in the months that followed.
As the largest MFI in the poorest country closest to the world’s richest one, Fonkoze has a unique role to play in drawing attention to innovative ideas in poverty reduction. Many times I have heard people say, “If Fonkoze can make that work in Haiti, why on earth won’t it work here?” Indeed.
Because she and her team have made microfinance (and related strategies) work in such a harsh environment, Anne is often asked to serve on international task forces and speak at conferences related to innovation in poverty reduction. (Other senior staff of Fonkoze play this role, though to a lesser degree.) While these commitments of Anne’s time may take away from her management responsibilities in Haiti to some extent, they are an important part of the mark that Fonkoze will leave on the world over the long term.
Last week I was at a conference in Jordan with Anne. It was the annual meeting of the Social Performance Task Force (SPTF), which sets standards and identifies best practices for poverty reduction in microfinance. Anne serves on various leadership bodies in the SPTF and was part of the core group that developed the “universal standards for social performance management” that were finalized and announced at the conference. Her participation in the group that made this happen – a process that included extensive consultation with thousands of people around the world — gave the final standards enhanced credibility, and will help drive widespread adoption and presumably, better results. (My employer, Grameen Foundation, has also been quite active on the SPTF.)
Embedded in the standards are the Client Protection Principles being championed by the Smart Campaign, which is based in the Center for Financial Inclusion. These principles define what an MFI must do to ensure that its policies and practices do not systematically do harm – even unintentionally – to poor clients. It is a kind of “code of ethics” and is extremely important today, as a few unsavory people and organizations have started to call what they do “microfinance.”
Surprise, surprise – Anne is on the Steering Committee for the Smart Campaign as well. Beth Rhyne, the director of the Center, mentioned to me when reviewing a draft of this blog that Fonkoze has been a practice leader in implementing the principles from the beginning. She wrote, “Fonkoze is one of the organizations that stepped up right away to create client service desks at Fonkoze branches to make sure that clients have a trusted place to go if they have any kind of problem or uncertainty about their work with Fonkoze.”
Fonkoze is working to develop a new generation of Haitian leaders to progressively take over the day-to-day management of the non-profit Fondayson and the for-profit Fonkoze Financial Services (SFF based on its Creole acronym) so that Anne and other current leaders, especially expatriates with international reputations, can focus more on these types of global impact opportunities. The faster they succeed, the larger Fonkoze’s global impact will be.
People often talk about how much the world gives to Haiti. By some measures it does give a lot. What I have come to see is that Haiti also has a lot to give to the world, and in some areas already does so. But its ability to give more comes down to that age-old question – how to attract, motivate and retain human capital, i.e., talent. Fonkoze’s success in addressing its human capital needs will go a long way to determining its ultimate impact in Haiti, and beyond.
Note: I published a short Addendum to this post, which readers can access here.