Helping Haitians to Rebuild and Restart the Economy

Helping Haitians to Rebuild and Restart the Economy

At the six-month anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, it is natural to stop and reflect on the international donor community's role in the rebuilding effort. Many have criticized programs that do not empower local organizations and rebuild infrastructure and have called for improvements in donor coordination and the pace of progress. The MasterCard Foundation's partnership with Fonkoze, the largest microfinance provider in Haiti, reaffirmed our approach to finding the best partners on the ground and working with programs that empower Haitians to rebuild and restart the Haitian economy.

Our work with Fonkoze began before the earthquake in January. Its approach to microfinance is exactly what the MasterCard Foundation supports: providing microfinance services with comprehensive mentoring, literacy training, and financial education to the poorest families. The repayment rate and the social gains made, including greater food security and sending more children to school, validate the wisdom of this approach.

Then the earthquake struck. Fonkoze lost employees, its headquarters, and several branches. A third of its staff lost their homes. In addition, about eighteen thousand of Fonkoze's clients lost everything.

Working with Fonkoze, we committed $4.5 million to not only rebuild the organization's operations but also to expand its microfinance efforts to rural families that, more than ever, needed financial support to rebuild the small businesses and local trading activities that are the backbone of the Haitian economy.

Our involvement with Fonkoze taught us several things:

Efforts to restart the local economy and provide Haitians with jobs are the best way to have a long-term impact in the country. Fonkoze's programs help clients, primarily women living in rural areas outside Port-au-Prince, to start or expand small businesses. In turn, those businesses create economic stability for women and their families while helping the country by restoring the flow of goods into the capital and rural areas.

We must strengthen institutions that are accountable to Haiti's poor. International aid works best when it puts resources and tools into the hands of people who have the greatest stake in rebuilding the lives of their families and communities. Supporting the resilience and creativity of the Haitian people will speed the nation's post-quake recovery.

Listening to local partners results in better programs. We were able to immediately contact our partners in Haiti and respond flexibly to their changing needs. But even in situations not defined by a devastating natural disaster, listening to partners ensures that aid is more responsive to actual needs on the ground and, ultimately, more effective.

Microfinance is a lifeline to the rural Haitian economy and will continue to play an important role in supporting and sustaining livelihoods throughout the country. The MasterCard Foundation is proud to partner with Fonkoze and help Haitians build back a better Haiti.

Reeta Roy is president and CEO of the Toronto-based MasterCard Foundation, which works to broaden access to the global economy through innovative microfinance programs and to increase access to quality educational opportunities for youth worldwide.