Fonkoze in the Midst of Transformations and Transitions
In my previous post – which generated a record 20 comments (not including my own), 747 views, and a fair bit of controversy – I promised to provide a separate update on my book and recent developments with Fonkoze. Here is that update. I will return to the issue of how research and practice relate in another post.
First, let me comment about the status of my book on Fonkoze. Despite claims to the contrary, I have not “ditched” it. The reality is more interesting and has three elements. First, I have come to a more realistic assessment of the time it will take to properly research and write something that does justice to the subject.
Second, Fonkoze is undergoing some important transformations in terms of its structure, strategy and staffing, and I believe it will be more appropriate to finish the book once those changes have played out. In particular, Anne Hastings stepped down as the CEO of SFF, the for-profit arm of Fonkoze, after 17 years of full-time work leading various Fonkoze institutions, and she was initially succeeded by a three-member management committee.
More recently, Matthew Brown, a member of that committee, was named as CEO by the SFF Board. The other two members of that committee, Dominique Boyer and Francis Ollivier, remain in their roles as COO and CIO respectively. Anne will be an active volunteer even as she has become the manager (and effectively staff director) of the Microfinance CEO Working Group that I am a founding member of. The Working Group is composed of 8 microfinance networks comprised of 250 of the world’s leading microfinance institutions that reach 40 million families. I see her appointment as a strong affirmation of the respect and influence Fonkoze has garnered well beyond the borders of Haiti, in large part due to Anne’s nonstop efforts spanning nearly two decades.
Third, I have been drawn into trying to shape the transformations Fonkoze is going through (in ways I detail below). In order to write even somewhat objectively about Fonkoze, time needs to pass after I phase out as an active volunteer for me to take up the book again in a serious way. (To give some idea of how active: I have been in Haiti every 8 weeks for the last two years.)
So, what have I been doing? Over the past year I have continued to Co-Chair the Fonkoze Family Coordinating Committee (FFCC), a high-level advisory group made up of board members and senior staff (drawn from all three organizations) that discusses and makes recommendations on important issues that impact multiple Fonkoze organizations.
My Co-Chair, Julian Schroeder, is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met – a savvy businessman who is also a devout Christian, humble to a fault, reflexively optimistic and affirming of others, and when needed, very decisive and vocal. It’s been a terrifically challenging and satisfying assignment.
As one would expect in a high pressure endeavor, I have made, caused and observed some wrong decisions, hurt feelings, and frayed relationships. But overall, few if any deny that the FFCC has been a constructive force within the Fonkoze family. In many ways, the family of Fonkoze organizations is working very well, tackling vexing problems head on, and solving many of them. And what a learning experience it has been for me! With so many microfinance institutions splintering into non-profit and for-profit arms, this experience of enhancing coordination and managing a leadership transition has important lessons for a global audience.
In addition, I chair the Fonkoze Futures Committee, which is charged with raising the funds needed to properly recapitalize these organizations, all of which were badly drained (in human and financial terms) by the 2010 earthquake aftermath, ongoing losses by the micro-lending operations, and some calculated risks meant to benefit clients that did not pay off. Recently, the Futures Committee efforts paid off in a historic investment of $2 million in SFF by Digicel – a leading global communications provider with operations in 31 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia Pacific. Some other promising trends are emerging, particularly in terms of SFF tracking to its planned pathway to breaking even in the not-too-distant future.
As my involvement with Fonkoze has deepened, I cannot deny that my ability to write objectively about the organization has been compromised to some degree, even as my knowledge of it has grown. Thus, I feel a need to taper down my involvement before taking up the book project again in a serious way. But this blog will continue in the meantime.