On a recent trip to La Gonâve, one of the things on my “to do” list was to check on the microfinance program in Nan Mango. My church, Covenant Presbyterian, has funded the program there for over three years and I had some concerns, even though the repayment record has been 100%.
I planned to meet with the local committee at Nan Mango and explain my concern that the activity appeared to be only buying and reselling. Nobody ever seemed to graduate into running a proper business. Equipped with my MBA and a long career in investment banking and equity research, I intended to offer some business education so that they could move to the next level and we would be doing more than just financing inventory.
When we met, there were 15 of our 22 members present. We chatted for a while and then I expressed my concerns. One woman responded to me for the whole group. She offered that “when more people in the community have money, even a little bit more, it helps the whole community.” You see, she clearly understood, without my help, the precept of the Federal Reserve System that you can stimulate the economy by increasing the money supply. I, on the other hand, had been focused on the fact that no one had truly “built a business”. They schooled me, big time.
When questioned what was needed the group asked that more people be included in the program and that the loan amount for each individual be increased. We will honor both of those requests.
Current books on international development will tell you that the underserved people of the world know exactly what they need and our most important job is to listen…not to focus on what we think they need.
These 15 women in this remote community of Nan Mango made that point to me. Not only do these women know what they need, they made it clear that they had a rational analysis for the impact this program was having on their community.
This is the beauty of working in Haiti. I continue be humbled by the power of connection and community…and the wisdom I take from each visit.