seems like people always try to save something, or hold back in life… for the extra period maybe? but there is no extra period. there’s no overtime. we don’t even know how long the game is going to be. it could all be blown dead tomorrow. so leave it all out there. go big. love like crazy, work like it matters, be the person you want to be regardless of the effort it takes.
A Leader for Economic Democracy in Haiti: Alexandre Hector
by Fonkoze Communications team member Ben Wiselogle
The strength of the Fonkoze family derives from the talent and dedication of our people. Without these dynamic case managers, credit agents, directors, and support staff, the powerful idea that Father Joseph founded this organization on in 1994 would remain just that; a beautiful idea. As an organization established on the principle that true political democracy cannot be possible without economic democracy, we provide intensive capacity building programs such as our Chemen Lavi Miyò program, in addition to microfinance services to some of the most underserved populations in Haiti.
Few people represent or understand that dedication to financial inclusion more than Alexandre Hector. Raised in the small southern city of Torbek by a mother who herself was a ti machann (“market woman”), he witnessed firsthand the negative effects of exorbitant interest rates on people trying to carve out a living in one of the least developed economies in the Western Hemisphere. Alexandre recalls his mother being weighed down by the heavy financial burden of interest rates exceeding 100%, and the feelings of frustration the entire family felt at the injustice.
Determined to provide a more inclusive financial future for his country, he earned a degree in Economics from the State University of Haiti in 1996 and began working with Fonkoze the following year as an account officer, before quickly earning a promotion to Assistant Director of the Business Development Program. Today Alexandre is the Zonal Operations Manager for southern Haiti, responsible for 22 branches and hundreds of employees. So what has kept this talented individual committed to Fonkoze for the past 17 years? To answer that question, it’s necessary to go back to his introduction to Fonkoze.
After graduating from college, Alexandre met Father Joseph and Anne Hastings, who introduced him to Fonkoze’s mission. Alexandre said that he immediately “agreed with the idea and loved the mission of commitment to the poorest of Haiti.” From that initial meeting onwards, Fonkoze has had a brilliant manager, and Alexandre had a place to put his tremendous talents to work for an organization fighting for a stronger and more independent Haiti. Demonstrating Fonkoze’s commitment to the professional development of our family, he was one of the first participants in our educational program for managers at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and studied there from 1999 to 2000.
His journey, much like that of Fonkoze, has not always been easy or without sacrifice. As an organization founded on the principle of inclusion, and dedicated to helping the poor realize their power, there have been times when the Fonkoze family has been threatened. Alexandre’s friend Amos Jeannot, with whom he began working at age 19, was kidnapped on September 6, 2000. The kidnappers demanded that the CEO, Anne Hastings, shut down Fonkoze. Because she could not, Amos was murdered. It was Alexandre who found his body one week later. In spite of this devastating tragedy, he has not stopped his fight for greater equality in his country.
When his colleagues discuss Alexandre’s role in the Fonkoze family, they repeat one idea again and again: how faithful he is to them, no matter their issue. Whether an employee discovers fraud, faces a security threat, or just needs trustworthy advice, Alexandre is known as the man who will listen and help. Natacha Blanc, his colleague of seven years, says, “He is one of the backbones of this organization. He does more for Fonkoze than just what his job demands, and no one knows this organization better than him.”
Today, with his wife and two young children, Alexandre is living a life of service in support of the vision of a stronger Haiti with economic access for all, regardless of background or circumstance. As he says,
“The rich and poor, they all deserve the same chance to become their best. When I look at the 60,000+ [ti machann] who benefit from Fonkoze services, I can say with pride that I contribute to this organization.”
For the past 20 years, Fonkoze has fought to be a resource and guide for the very poorest in Haiti. Thanks to leaders like Alexandre, we will continue to fight as long as is necessary to ensure access to capital and training for Haiti’s most vulnerable.
Beginning the long journey out of poverty:
This past Friday, I had the privilege to see what the first step out of poverty looks like for women beginning Fonkoze’s Chemen Lavi Miyò program. Traveling northeast from Port au Prince to the central city of Mibale, I had an hour to imagine what this Lansman (“launching” in Kreyol) ceremony would look like. Actually attending the event over the course of the day changed my preconceived notions entirely.
The people of Mibale standing together in support of women starting out on the long path out of extreme poverty through the CLM program (women starting the program on the left, community supporters on the right).
As the church where the Lansman would be held slowly filled with women and their fellow community members, I saw many different emotions on their faces. I saw pride, excitement, humor, and more than a few looks of apprehension. After all, these women were putting their faith in the Fonkoze family, and specifically their caseworkers, that if they could continue with the program for 18 months, they would finish with better lives for them and their families than when they started. Throughout the event, I saw many of those emotions shift from apprehension to confidence and genuine excitement.
In addition to encouraging speeches by Gauthier Dieudonne, Chemen Lavi Miyò Director, prayer led by the local pastor, and a demonstration on the water filtration units they received towards the end of the ceremony, these women received their new ID cards, granting them access to health services through Zanmi Lasante (Partners In Health sister organization in Haiti). For me, this was an outstanding example of Fonkoze’s holistic commitment to helping these women get past the potential obstacles they may face. It wasn’t just about the potential access to capacity building financial services through the Ti Kredi program when they graduate CLM, but a promise of medical resources right now so that they may continue to work for their brighter futures free from health worries.
Perhaps the best example of this burgeoning partnership was the final act of the event where the members signed their contracts, adamantly signaling their commitment to do all they could to improve their lives shoulder to shoulder with Fonkoze. Whether by signing their names, or by using their thumbprints, these women were actively taking their first step on what would be a challenging journey.
New CLM member signing her contract.
At the end of the ceremony, these women of Mibale had indeed launched, and with the promise of continued support from the Fonkoze family and dedicated case-workers throughout their journey, along with a past graduation rate of 96%, these women now have a good chance at a brighter future.
Chemen Lavi MiyÃ² (CLM), “the pathway to a better life,” enables 96% of the ultra-poor women who participate to lift their families out of extreme poverty.
Today I traveled to the town of Mibale in central Haiti to document and assist with a CLM lansman celebration. This is the launching ceremony, and the time that women sign their contracts, committing themselves to the long, uncertain, and arduous journey out of poverty with the help of Fonkoze. It was interesting seeing a whole community come together to support the most vulnerable amongst them even while they have so little. I wondered as I watched if I would have the strength and courage to get up after being knocked down so thoroughly by circumstance and the world… and I don’t know.
Yesterday I met with the CEO of our Financial branch of the Fonkoze family for an hour to discuss strategy, and some of the challenges of operating a sustainable bank for the poor in the “poorest country in the western hemisphere”. It was an hour no academic program or masters program could duplicate, and as we were going back and forth, I kept thinking, this is so bad-ass. The perks of going all in with life, even when plan A’s don’t quite turn out.
And right now as I’m righting this, I’m being eaten alive by mosquitos. Honestly, there’s no place else I’d rather be.
Obviously, Go Seahawks.
It’s been almost a week since I’ve landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti working with the micro finance organization Fonkoze ( http://www.fonkoze.org ), and I am in love…
…In love with my job, in love with this country, my amazing co-workers, and the people of this strong nation Although it’s only a 3 month contract, this experience has only reinforced my desire to work with real people doing what they can to make a better world.
Development work is not easy, simple, or instantly gratifying, but it is incredibly rewarding knowing that you’re part of an intelligent effort to build the capacity of a people who have faced nothing but trials and pain since their heroic claim to independence over 200 years ago. Fonkoze has it all, Haitian leadership, a nimble and honest team, and a set of ideals that make the whole thing really move.
On the other side of the coin, I could write for days on the absolute systemic hypocrisy and idiocy of people and policies with “good intentions” who are not helping in the development sector, but I’ll wait for another time when I’m feeling less optimistic…
So… I’m renting a room in a house with 2 other people (my boss (or direkte), and one of my coworkers from Cincy who has worked in the Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti for the past few years) owned by our landlord who lives above us (Yoland). Yoland is an extraordinary women of 80ish who will not take “no” for an answer on anything. Which is just fine, because you wouldn’t want to let her down. Security’s an issue, but with just a little common sense, there’s no reason for fear at all. A kind word and “hello” (or bonjou) carries the same weight in currency no matter where you are.
Although I’ve spent most of my time in our home office in PAP, I did get to make a trip out to the field in Aken after being in country for 2 days, which was incredible. I was sent to document a meeting between our Education Manager Laurence Camille, her assistant Corrine, our driver Rodrig, and a group of Haitian women community leaders. As our well worn SUV bumped and rattled over dirt roads and “smooth” highways, I kept thinking to myself, “THIS IS THE BEST JOB/LIFE EVER.” The meeting went well, photos were taken, interviews were had, and Things Got Done and issues were resolved. This was real work with outcomes that caused stronger communities in the poorest country in the Americas. Even though I spent a sleepless night getting eaten by mosquitos, I still got out of bed with a huge smile on my face.
There’s a lot I need to work on (like my Creole), but otherwise, this is such a great fit, and I am so grateful for this opportunity.
Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m writing this on the 4th anniversary of the earthquake that ruined so many lives, but gave mine wings. If you end up reading this today, please take a moment to recognize all those lives that were stopped right in their tracks, and maybe appreciate yours a little better and treat those in your life with a little more care.
Abiento from Port au Prince…
In five hours I’ll be boarding a plane for Dallas, and then Fort Lauderdale, and finally Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
I am thrilled, and excited, and nervous, and terrified I won’t be good enough to do all that is needed.
And then I think of all that I have done to prepare for this moment, and I feel a certain calm. The two deployments and six years in the US Navy, the previous four trips to Haiti, and the personal demons I’ve overcome along the way have all contributed to the foundation and passion of who I am now.
UW Bothell has contributed to that foundation, and I am as ready as I can be. I’ll write more later in the week, and all the best to you and yours.
I hope you’re doing what you love and being the best you can be.
In his recent piece in the McKinsey Voices on Society, Olivier Barrau (@obarrau), CEO of the Alternative Insurance Company in Haiti, makes a strong case for changing the fatalistic mindset in Haiti, which he considers to be one of the reasons why the insurance market in Haiti remains highly underdeveloped. […]
This is what I’m working for.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.