BFP: What do you do?
KF: I chair the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group (HHTARG) and I am the Project Director and Diaspora Liaison Officer for Fonkoze, where I am responsible for research and development for new remittance products and initiatives, financial literacy programs for new immigrants, training and capacity-building for Haitian Hometown Associations (HHTAs), project reporting, and donor relations. My most recent project is Zafèn
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. After brainstorming about what was affecting the Haitian community abroad financially, diaspora leaders recognized that investing in Haiti was not easy. In fact, it was a burden on the community. They were losing money on their investments because of a lack of knowledge about the Haitian investment situation, and they were unable to follow up on their investments. They asked Fonkoze to set up a website where they could find out about sustainable businesses in their hometown that would create jobs and have social impact in the community. At the time, as I jotted down the action items to be shared with MIF (Multilateral Investment Fund, our donor for this project), I couldn’t help thinking “How on earth are we going to deliver that?” Well, somehow the stars aligned, and a miracle happened: two months later, Anne Hastings, CEO of Fonkoze Financial Services, informed me that the Vincentian familywas very interested in the idea of setting up a website to support SMEs in Haiti.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
KF: The best part is seeing meaningful results. For example, Zafèn has been online for only 2 years, and we now have over 1500 online users from all around the globe. They’ve invested over $1 million in more than 140 projects. Over 760 jobs have been created, and many businesses have received technical assistance to help stimulate their growth.
BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?
KF: We were fortunate to have partners like the Vincentian family and DePaul University, who helped jump-start the program as part of their celebration of the legacies of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac 350 years after their deaths. The initial grants from IADB, HIFIVE(USAID), Oxfam, MercyCorp, Zynga and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund were instrumental to build capacity and helped us go beyond the online platform.
It has been a challenge to find funding to pay for the day-to-day administration of Zafèn and training or business support for the businesses. Access to finance is not the only element of success for the SMEs and SGBs; we need to find donors who are willing to finance the back office of Zafèn until it gets to the point where it is sustainable. It is a hard thing to sell. Most of our individual donors give loans, but they’re not as inclined to make a donation to underwrite the administrative functions. We are getting great results because of a proven approach tested in the past 2 years.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? What advice would you give to others?
KF:Since our resources are limited, we need to find partners who share our values and are in Haiti for the long run. With those partners we want to build a sustainable ecosystem of business development providers for our Zafèn clients. We also use professionals from the Haitian Diaspora to help with staffing and training. For example, with some members of the HHTARG we organized training on value chains, guest house management, sustainable schools, aqua farming, business plan drafting, accounting, and finance.
Also we are always looking for pro-bono or low-bono professionals or firms who can help with Zafèn’s administration. For example, last year we were fortunate to have Tronvig Group help us with our social media campaign and our new webpage. They also produced this great video explaining how Zafèn works:
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do – where do they start?
KF:To do what I do you need to have a strong professional background and experience with community service. I have 10 years of experience in corporate finance and over 20 years of involvement with Haitian Hometown Associations and community services. I think the first step is to get involved as a volunteer or intern to understand the challenges, and then start solving them.
I would also recommend joining networks like Women Advancing Microfinance (WAM) or Aspen Network of Development of Entrepreneurs (ANDE) to meet other professionals working in the field and get a grasp of their reality. They also publish research papers and host conferences that could be useful.
BFP: And lastly, what do you hope to get out of being part of this community?
KF: Mostly, I hope to learn from others’ experiences. I really enjoy reading the blogs and articles posted on Business Fights Poverty. I’m also interested in corporate social responsibility and finding business solutions to social issues. That’s one of the other reasons I joined this community.
Thank you to Katleen Felix for taking the time to do this interview.