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By Pierre-Richard Bercy, edited by Jim Luce.

I was born and raised in Haiti. I moved to the U.S. to further my studies. Haiti’s educational system is very poor; many fortunate students like me tend to move overseas once they obtained their high school diploma. When I first went to college, I was enrolled into a nursing program mainly because my uncle persuaded me that the medical field was the best fit for me because I was on a student visa. Growing up in Haiti, I always had a passion for math, and believe me, there is a huge gap between math and medicine.

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A $1,200 loan for a new water pump enabled Entreprise Parole d’Ecclésiaste (EPE) to grow and sell fresh organic vegetables in Ladigue, Jérémie. The agricultural bounty that resulted has enabled the business to make timely payments on its loan. Photo: Zafèn.

Without financial assets, it is quite impossible to do anything in this world. The financial sector is a critical component in every country and plays a very crucial part in its development. Contrary to what most people think, finance is not just about money; the key is how to use, generate and access the positive outcomes from finance and financial tools. I became interested in helping companies create monetary value and produce valuable goods; I soon realized that finance was my call.

I have learned that since the earthquake, 13 percent more Haitian households are in debt than before the quake. The average amount of debt per household in Port-au-Prince is $255, and $394 in rural communities (6 to 11 times more than the average monthly salary). The costs associated with maintaining income-generating activity is the main financial constraint of households. The gain from income-generating activities is not sufficient to ensure the sustainability of these activities.

Households are, therefore, caught in a vicious cycle of debt.

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Rasanbleman Fanm Vanyan Limonade (RAFAVAL) recently raised funding for a loan of $2,625 to enable this organization to continue processing chocolate, coffee, cassava and papaya into products sold across Haiti. Photo: Zafèn.

Schools fees represent the second significant financial constraint of households. On top of this, according to a survey, 15 percent of households noted that house repair/reconstruction is a major financial burden.

Important actions should be taken immediately to support Haitians experiencing these issues. Having faced numerous hardships such as the earthquake, hurricane and cholera, Haitians who are struggling economically should be put at the center of today’s reconstruction efforts and tomorrow’s plan for development.

Haiti is a very small nation with a very small economy and is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. With a GDP of only $11.48 billion in 2010, about $1,300 per person, 80 percent of households live below the poverty line in Port-au-Prince. More than half, 54 percent, live in abject poverty. Unemployment in Haiti stands at 40.6 percent. Most people live on less than $2 a day and are highly dependent on imported foods. Ninety four percent of households in rural areas affected by the earthquake are in debt.

My passion for finance blends with Zafèn, which provides funding for small growing businesses in Haiti, which in turn will help ameliorate the difficult economic situation in Haitian households.

Although many organizations have reached out to alleviate the living situation in Haiti after the earthquake, only a few like Zafèn have a long-term vision concerning Haiti. Zafèn, which means “It’s our business” in Haitian Creole, was developed to stimulate collaboration between Haiti-based business owners, the Haitian Diaspora and others interested in supporting the Haitian economy.

“The idea of Zafèn came out of a videoconference on financial literacy organized with Diaspora leaders in Miami, New York and Haiti in April 2009,” said Katleen Felix, chair of the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group. “After brainstorming on what was affecting the Haitian community abroad financially, Diaspora leaders recognized that investing in Haiti was not easy and also a burden for the community. They asked Fonkoze to set up a website where they could see sustainable businesses in their hometown that would create jobs and have social impact in the community. Too many members of the Diaspora are losing on their investment because they don’t know much about the Haitian context or how to set up businesses in their hometown, or are limited in the follow up.”

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Dous Pam (My Sweet) Bakery in Pétionville received a $5,000 loan in October 2011 to expand and is in the process of repaying its lenders. Photo: Zafèn.

Zafèn was founded by four organizations: the International Vincentian Family, an assembly of people worldwide affiliated with organizations who find inspiration in the legacies of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac; DePaul University in Chicago, the largest Catholic university in America; Fonkoze, Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor serving more than 200,000 clients; and the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group, which enables the Haitian Diaspora to foster economic and social growth to alleviate poverty in their native communities.

The Vincentian Family, a network of religious and lay organizations that continue the work of Saints Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, hosted a wildly successful match program during the Thanksgiving through Christmas season of 2011. It raised almost a half million dollars for Fonkoze’s Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program, which translates into English as “Path to a Better Life.”

As a result, several hundred of the poorest families in rural Haiti will be able to participate in an 18-month proven program that enables them to build a stable home with a sanitary latrine, pursue two different business opportunities and enroll all of their children in school as they progress into self-sufficiency. Based on average family size in Haiti, more than 2,000 parents and children are expected to benefit from the program.

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Joelle Boncy is very talented at making Batik and hand painted clothing, napkins, curtains, tablecloth and pillows. She has been generous in teaching her trade to the next generation. Her company, Métisse, presented a new collection at a fair organized by Women in Production that was held in Miami around Mother’s Day 2012. Photo: Zafèn.

The Rev. Joseph Agostino, C.M., Vincentian family coordinator for the Haiti Project, said, “Providing opportunities that empower those in need to break out of the dehumanizing cycle of poverty lies at the heart of the Vincentian mission. Sts. Vincent and Louise did this in 17th century France; we continue to do it today in Haiti and throughout the world.”

Evidence that Zafèn is indeed building Haiti back better comes in the form of 760 new jobs created at 110 businesses across the country that have received loans. More than 250 of the jobs are full-time, while 197 are part-time and 311 are contract or seasonal positions. Zafèn users around the world lent about $428,000 to small Haitian businesses since its inception in April 2010. Another $664,000 has been donated to 20 socially oriented projects, such as funding elementary school tuition; clean water filters to halt the spread of cholera and the creation of a henhouse for which 100 women in Derac (Northeast) share management responsibilities.

As a result of increasing pressure on available resources, Haitians living in rural areas have suffered. Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country's widespread deforestation. Improving household economic security is a major challenge for those living on the margins of survival. Currently, remittances are the primary source of foreign exchange, equaling nearly 20 percent of GDP. Haiti suffers from a lack of investment, partly because of limited infrastructure and a lack of security.

Major focus should be given to microfinance initiativeses such as small loans and saving schemes to ensure individual loans are provided help Haitians start or expand their small business. This will boost Haitians financial situation and support the needs and rights of their families.

I would also encourage NGOs and other organizations to focus their attention on job creating and life skills that can lift entire families up and out of poverty permanently. Creating a sort of entrepreneurship training program would not be a bad idea. That way we can educate people about farming, business skills and literacy in order to increase opportunities and maximize social impact.

Zafèn is a funding source for growing Haitian businesses and social projects that do not qualify for traditional bank loans and otherwise would not have access to capital. Its goals are to:

1) Enable small/medium Haitian enterprises to expand their businesses, create jobs and transform their economy while building a credit history through interest-free loans, and

2) Support valuable education and community improvement projects through donations.

See Stories by Jim Luce on:

Zafen: Redefining "Interest" in the Changing World of Microfinance

Zafen: New Interest-Free Microloan Initiative Launched for Haiti

Haiti   |   International Development   |   Microfinance   |   New York   |   HHTARG  

The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation ( is the umbrella organization under which The International University Center Haiti (Uni Haiti) and Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) are organized. If supporting young global leadership is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.

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Originally posted to Thought Leaders & Global Citizens on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 12:57 PM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community and DK Lending.

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