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How One Organization Made a Difference after the Earthquake in Haiti


It has been over a month since the earthquake in Haiti. Now that the story is pretty much off the TV screens, most Americans are paying less attention to this crisis, and contributions have declined dramatically. I spoke to many reporters in the first weeks after the disaster and tried to get them—with only limited success—to include in their reports the fact that Haiti was in crisis before the earthquake and will need our help and contributions for many years to come. I hope you and your friends will be thinking about that as you plan your own individual giving.

In my personal life, one of my volunteer activities is serving on the board of the Grameen Foundation USA. One of the organizations we support is Fonkoze, the Haitian branch of the Grameen Bank. There were many acts of personal heroism and extraordinary effort after the earthquake. Here is an excerpt from an amazing story reported by Peggy Simpson that tells one of them, this one involving Fonkoze. Read the full blog here >

At a time when Haitian commercial banks remain closed, Fonkoze, the Haitian branch of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, mobilized over the weekend to get funds to its members in rural towns as well as Port-au-Prince.

Between 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. last Saturday [January 23, 2010], Fonkoze brought in $2 million in cash from their U.S. bank and distributed it by helicopters to regional offices in the most remote parts of the country. That got money flowing again. The cash came from Haitians working abroad who had sent funds—remittances—to their relatives.

Also known as Haiti’s Alternative Bank for the Organized Poor, Fonkoze found a way to get money to its members through the 34 of its 41 branch offices still open after the earthquake. It had a lot of help in high places: the U.S. secretary of state, top Treasury and Defense Department officials, the Federal Reserve, the Agency for International Development, the United Nations, the Inter-American Development Bank and more.

The actual operation read like a cloak-and-dagger saga.

Anne Hastings, the CEO of Fonkoze Financial Services, was point person on shaping the unorthodox solution. It involved many conference calls to Washington, New York and Miami, as well as intricate strategies with managers on the ground in Haiti who would get the money to the women.

By last Friday, the plan was ready. Remittances from U.S.-based Haitians deposited in Fonkoze’s accounts at City National Bank of New Jersey were sent to JP Morgan Chase in Miami, converted into cash—and packed in office supply boxes. An armored vehicle transferred the boxes to Homestead Air Force Base.

A C-17 plane, diverted from Langley Air Force Base, landed at Homestead at 3 a.m. Saturday, took on the camouflaged cargo of cash, and flew to Haiti, where the major airport at Port-au-Prince has been under U.S. military control since the earthquake.

There, Hastings and two other Fonkoze executives inspected the cash cargo—and called the Pentagon to say so far, so good. Under a military escort, the Fonkoze vehicle loaded with the boxes of cash awaited the two helicopters that could fly the money to 10 designated drop-off locations.

Fonkoze’s Jean-Guy Noel rode with the helicopters as they began deliveries before dawn. Seven hours later, all the cash had been delivered and the helicopters were back in Port-au-Prince. By early afternoon, the cash had been distributed to the 34 Fonkoze branches. Almost immediately, the Fonkoze managers began giving Fonkoze members cash from their relatives, a financial lifeline at a time when the formal banking system is in shambles and remittances sent through it from overseas Haitians remain locked up.

… In 2007, 79 percent of Haitians lived on less than $2 a day and 55 percent lived on half that.

Fonkoze’s micro-lending program has four different levels. The first step is for the poorest of the poor and may involve home repairs and health care, as well as building the confidence of the women as they plan to start a micro-enterprise. Next the women may qualify for small loans—perhaps only $25—with a short repayment period, while they enroll in literacy classes. In Haiti, more than 50 percent of people are illiterate.

The third level is the core: a “solidarity” group in which friends take out loans together, then morph into credit centers of 30 to 40 women. These women can start out borrowing $75 but if they prosper, they can borrow up to $1,300 for six months.

The fourth level focuses on business development. Some women in this group borrow up to $25,000 and are being nurtured to become part of the formal economy, creating jobs in rural areas where there are few employment opportunities.

Bob.jpgThe preceding is a guest post Bob Ottenhoff,  Chief Executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. With an entrepreneurial spirit, strong technology focus, and a quest to make an impact in the world, Bob has the ability to take an organization and lead it into strong performance, sustainability, and industry leadership.

Topics: Fundraising Nonprofit Haiti