Zafèn Haitian Microfinance Effort Nears $150k in First Six Months

  • Posted on: 1 October 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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In 2009, the Vincentian Family (a religious group that draws inspiration from St. Vincent de Paul) and Fonkoze (Haiti’s largest micro-lender) initiated a pilot project, named Zafen, that allows people to loan or donate to businesses in Haiti.  The website showcases businesses that have been subject to due diligence, provides easy online access for reviewing them, and offers Haitian entrepreneurs access to capital for expanding their operations.  In its first six months, Zafen raised $140,000 and provided funding for 300 projects ranging from coffee cultivation to community dairies.  An official press release follows.  Take a look at the Zafen website as well.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

-October 1, 2010-

 

Zafèn Haitian Microfinance Effort Nears $150k in First Six Months - 51 Businesses Receive Interest-Free Loans For Expansion

 

Zafèn, a new online microfinance program targeting small- and medium-sized business in Haiti, has raised $140,000 from lenders and donors around the world in its first six months and funded more than 300 projects. “That’s truly remarkable for a newly launched program,” says DePaul University Management Professor Laura Hartman, an expert on global poverty alleviation and member of Zafèn’s steering committee. “International efforts to address poverty are transitioning from pure charity to models that focus on sustainable partnerships; groundbreaking micro-lending initiatives like Kiva and Grameen Foundation have inspired our development.”

 

Since Zafèn launched on April 1, 2010, contributions at www.zafen.org/ have sent more than 1,500 children to school and enabled 51 entrepreneurs to expand their enterprises, mostly through loans and donations under $100. Jean-Patrick Lucien is a co-founder of the Ile-a-Vache Development Group, whose project to recycle coconut husks and other organic waste into charcoal as an alternative fuel for deforested Haiti earned honors as the first to receive full funding through Zafèn. It attracted three interest-free loans of $1,000. Lucien says one effect of the lenders’ investment is that residents of Ile-a-Vache recognize they have partners and are eager to start their own businesses. “The greatest impact is that we are hiring young, educated people who were leaving the island, and now they see a reason to remain,” he said. The development group’s mission is to support progress that reduces poverty, increases literacy and protects the environment of this 20-square-mile island near Les Cayes.

 

The organizations that created Zafèn are encouraged by the positive impact it has already had in Haiti.  Said Anne Hastings, director of Fonkoze, Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor, “Zafèn has been well-received in the Diaspora, and it is beginning to win the trust and credibility of everyone.” “So far, its greatest success has been in providing scholarships for Haitian children who come from families living in dire poverty,” said the Rev. Robert Maloney, C.M., who chairs the Vincentian Family Board. “Donations have come from surprising sources.  The Vincentian family in Mexico, a poor country itself, contributed $13,800, and similar contributions came from other countries commonly regarded as poor. “I have visited businesses and social projects across Haiti that are now able to expand their activities by hiring more people from their villages,” said Katleen Felix, chair of the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group and Haitian Diaspora liaison with Fonkoze. “The people are grateful to have the opportunity to access capital and grow their businesses.”

 

We have people around the world supporting Zafèn businesses,” Felix said. “The Diaspora, friends of Haiti and communities in the USA are getting together to fundraise for Zafèn and create a loan fund that they will be able to reinvest in year after year.” Zafèn has an active Facebook page with nearly 900 international fans. Most come from the United States, Argentina, Canada, Haiti, Uruguay and Mexico.  Significant numbers live in Chicago, New York, Miami, Montreal and Freeport, Bahamas.

 

So where does Zafèn go from here? We want Zafèn to become the leading database of creditworthy small and medium enterprises,” according to Hastings. To achieve that vision, Fonkoze hopes to expand the number of business analysts on its staff and work with businesses that are not yet creditworthy to get them ready to expand. Teams that supported a project have played a major role in Zafèn’s early effectiveness. Families, friends, organizations and businesses have lent and donated thousands of dollars through the website since it debuted.  For example, a team led by Chicago photographer Jennifer Girard has raised more than $5,000 for a variety of projects, including the purchase of a water pump to irrigate cropland, which is the sole source of revenue for residents of Boucan Carre. Girard is now focusing her efforts on the One Village Planet Women’s Development Initiative, which is starting a nursery to feed local residents, all of whom are undernourished.  Two funded enterprises have already repaid their loans, while seven are currently in the process of repayment. They include La Montagne de Jacmel Community Corn Mill, which received $3,200 and has repaid $500 so far, and Mario Shop, which received $1,300 to restart its production and rehire employees and has repaid $237.

 

New opportunities for support are posted regularly. Current offerings include:

 

1) Let A Gogo, a dairy producer that wants to buy two motorcycles to expand distribution  throughout Leogane and Port-au-Prince and buy fresh milk to meet a large contract

 

2) Le Verger, a nursery in Croix-des-Bouquets that seeks $4,000 to buy a solar water pump to save endangered plantlets and fruits native only to Haiti, and

 

3) Société de Management, de Développement et Services, which would spend $700 to launch a Farmer Training & Crop Diversification Pilot Project.

 

“Zafèn is committed to a long-term relationship with Haiti,” says Hartman.  “No one is looking for a 180 degree turnaround from Haiti in a day.  But we do believe that Haiti’s positive future will come from committed business owners like those who are featured on Zafèn.  These are the people investing in Haiti right now, and they are just asking that we invest in them.  It is not a lot to ask.”

 

About Zafèn:  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. It is unique in its criteria because businesses must demonstrate an anticipated impact on the broader community from the loan or donation by hiring more employees, operating more efficiently, becoming more environmentally friendly or other measures. 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.

Comments

10/8/2010
Huffinton Post
By Jim Luce
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Haitians like Jean-Patrick Lucien are one reason Zafèn, a new online microfinance program targeting small- and medium-sized businesses in Haiti, has been so successful. Action-oriented people like Chicago photographer Jennifer Girard are another. Zafèn is marking its six-month anniversary in October and has already amassed an impressive track record of success. It has raised $140,000 in loans and donations that have funded 300 projects. Zafèn provides access to capital for initiatives that will have a positive impact on Haiti's economy through a loan or donation that results in new employment, operational efficiencies and environmentally friendly measures. It was founded in April 2010 by the International Vincentian Family, DePaul University, Fonkoze and the Haitian Diaspora.
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Lucien is a co-founder of the Ile-a-Vache Development Group in Haiti. The organization's initiative to recycle coconut husks and other organic waste into charcoal as an alternative fuel was the first project to receive funding through Zafèn. A computer engineer who grew up in Haiti but stayed in Boston after earning his college degree, Lucien said, "Having spent over 15 years in the private sector in the United States, I realized that as a Haitian, I could not go back to do charity work. We started working with Haitian youths and helping them start their own businesses." The charcoal project has proven to be an effective approach. "The greatest impact is that we are hiring young, educated people who were leaving the island, and now they see a reason to remain," he said. The project's ultimate goal is to create a viable business that will generate at least 50 jobs and become a replicable franchise that provides training, marketing and operations support.
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Lucien perseveres despite obstacles, human and natural. "The first try has been difficult," he said. "We trained a few people, but some have left to take other jobs. The program started around the summer time, but we have been slow in production because there was no way for people to harvest coconut during rainy season. We are now putting all the pieces in place, hired a manager to start production, and our focus is on supplying charcoal to schools on the island." Charcoal isn't the development group's only project. It established a small school, Ecole du Village, and is teaching kids about Haiti's fruit trees and how to produce fruit that will improve their nutrition. The school received a $1,100 donation through Zafèn to repair a cistern as a source of clean water.
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To generate pride among the island's 15,000 residents, mainly fishermen and farmers, Lucien said, "We wrote a book called 'I Love Ile-a-Vache' and distributed it to all the schools so the people could appreciate their own history. His work is noble, but wouldn't be possible without financing from people like Girard, a well-known events and celebrity photographer, who represents the flipside of the equation: lenders and donors seeking an effective way to support Haitians. "I had been to Haiti for carnival and vacation," she said. "After the earthquake, I felt I had to go there, but I knew that was crazy." By happenstance, she was hired to photograph Zafèn's launch at DePaul University and was hooked immediately. "I felt like it was a Godsend that Zafen came into my life."
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She took a photographic journey to Haiti in May 2010 to chronicle the business conditions and economic opportunities for artists recovering from the earthquake, restaurants switching to propane ovens from wood-burning stoves to prevent deforestation and buying freezers to save on daily ice costs, along with farmers planting new crops in remote villages. "Visiting was the key for me," said Girard, who added "Save Haiti's Children" and Zafèn's Web address to her business cards to spread the word. "I saw the strength of the people. They were so sweet. The children didn't even know how to open a candy wrapper."
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The experience shifted Girard into high gear. She created a team on Zafèn's website and used her skills of persuasion to negotiate deals with clients to fund projects she selected, the first of which was to buy a water pump to irrigate cropland. The village received the structure to hold the pump several years prior, but was unable to afford the pump, so it sat unused. Girard's clients reacted generously by joining her team on Zafèn, buying photos she took on her trip and Haitian art she brought back to raise funds for loans. So far, her team has loaned more than $5,300 to 14 projects. Her latest target was a group of women farmers starting a tree nursery. It was funded in record time. "These are small loans. That's my cup of tea," Girard said. "I have a great life; I'm not in debt. I can help someone buy seeds or paintbrushes for artists." The same is true for Lucien. He lives in Boston, telecommutes to Haiti daily via phone, Skype, and e-mails, then makes personal visits three to four times per year, all to support development that reduces poverty, increases literacy, and protects the environment of his homeland. Note: I will be moving in December to Léogâne, Haiti - epicenter of the earthquake -- as the first anniversary approaches Jan. 12. I will visit several Zafèn projects during my stay.

5/8/2012
By Kathleen Felix
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Zafèn, a crowd-sourced funding opportunity for small growing businesses (SGBs) in Haiti, has surpassed the $1 million threshold as it commemorates its second year of empowering entrepreneurs and supporting social projects in this economically promising nation. 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. “Jobs to earn a decent living and provide for their families: that’s what most Haitians, men and women, want. Not hand-outs,” said Carine Ronen, a director at Fonkoze, Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor. Zafèn operates as a program of Fonkoze. 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. 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 more than 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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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.” Meanwhile, a new home page created to better serve Zafèn users came online during Zafèn’s anniversary month. It was designed by Tronvig Group, a creative agency in Brooklyn, New York that helps non-profit and arts organizations with marketing and branding. "We designed the new home page as an evolution of the old, leaving the main menu in place, but adding a prominent slide show with images and text that explain what Zafèn is and how it works, and how easily you can support Haitian businesses and social projects through Zafèn,” explained James Heaton, Tronvig Group's president. “We brought forward the projects so you can now find a project immediately on the home page.”
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"It has been a pleasure working with an organization that is really working hard to make a difference in Haiti long term,” he added. “Zafèn is an important platform for the Haitian Diaspora worldwide who fund projects in their hometowns to create community impact,” said Katleen Felix, chair of the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group. “We surveyed our users, especially in the Diaspora, to learn ways to serve them better. The new map and search engine were designed to help them quickly identify where we have active projects. We have already received positive feedback on the new page and notice a greater interest from the Diaspora.” Solutions, a Port-au-Prince-based technology company, built the page and its functionality, bringing the new, easier-to-use and understand page to life. “The new Zafèn home page is designed to make it easier for any visitor to get engaged from the first click in support of hard-working and creative entrepreneurs in Haiti,” said Kurt Jean-Charles, CEO of Solutions S.A. “As a Haitian based IT company, Solutions S.A. is proud of this experience with Zafèn and Tronvig and thankful for the opportunity to make it happen by coding with a purpose. This launch also gives us a chance to praise the heroes that made a real difference with their loans and to invite more contributors to join Zafèn in the future.”
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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. It is unique in its criteria because businesses must demonstrate an anticipated impact on the broader community from the loan or donation by hiring more employees, operating more efficiently, becoming more environmentally friendly or other measures. 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.
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Carine Ronen, Fonkoze/Zafèn, croenen@fonkoze.org
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Rev. Joseph Agostino, Vincentian family, agostinojv@gmail.com
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Katleen Felix, Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group, kfelix@fonkoze.org
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James Heaton, Tronvig Group, jheaton@tronviggroup.com
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Kurt Jean-Charles, Solutions S.A., kjcharles@solutions.ht

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