Category Archives: Economic Development

Why Lending To Women is a Smart Investment

Pignon is neat and clean with a population of around 48,000.  The paved and walkable streets, along with the laid back vibe of the place were a nice reprieve from the noise and chaos of Port-au-Prince, where we live.

Pignon, Credit ACLAM__27

Isidor Jean-Pierre was giving us a walking tour of the city.  He is the World Concern Regional Coordinator in Pignon, central Haiti and earlier this week was our first visit to the office there.

We passed the city’s plaza, which has a small stage and sitting area, where Isidor explained they sometimes have concerts.  “Visiting church groups from other places in Haiti have played there before,” he said.

Soon we stopped at a brightly painted concrete building.  Here Isidor introduced us to Emilienne, a 35-year-old mother of four, who runs a business selling a variety of products like beverages, ketchup, and some food staples like beans.  “Rice and soap are the most popular,” she said, pointing to the boxes of soap sitting at the front of her shop to attract customers.

Pignon, Credit ACLAM__15

Since 1998 World Concern has been serving small business owners in Pignon by providing loans and training.  The loans, taken individually or as a group, give people access to much needed capital to purchase products or other inputs and grow their business.

Emilienne received her first individual loan from World Concern in 2011 and is now on her second.  Although she has had this business for some time, the loans have allowed her to purchase different products and expand her stock.

Pignon, Credit ACLAM__20“I buy the products in Hinche and Port-au-Prince mostly and a truck brings them here,” Emilienne explained.

Her shop is not the only one like it in Pignon.  There are many other shops or stands—some smaller, some bigger—selling similar products.  One of the challenges small business owners in Haiti like Emilienne face is how to stand out from the rest.  So I asked her how she competes.

“There is a shop over there,” she said, pointing.  “Some of my products are 10 gourdes cheaper.”  She answered quickly and confidently.  This was a woman who knew what she was doing.

Around midday we went back to the two room office where the four World Concern staff in Pignon work, and drank Cokes with Isidor.  I was thankful for a break from the heat.

Pignon, Credit ACLAM__33

Our Pignon colleagues–Isidor is the really tall gentleman in the middle

Martha asked Isidor why so many of the microcredit clients in Pignon are women.  “If you lend money to the women, you know she will invest it in her own household,” he said.

His answer was profound yet not foreign.  It is one we have heard from a number of our colleagues around the country.  Empowering women often impacts not only the woman but also her family and community.  

The World Bank published a series of studies, including “Engendering Development” and “Gender Equality as Smart Economics,” where they show that women and girls reinvest an average of 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to a 30 to 40 percent reinvestment rate for men.  With a simple loan and basic business training, women like Emilienne are given the resources needed to succeed.

I need you to step inside Emilienne’s cultural context for a moment.  When I say succeed, don’t picture her buying a large house or a new car.  By succeed, I mean that she has consistent income and thus is able to continually provide food, clothing, shelter, and education to her immediate family and maybe even others around her.   Definitely something to congratulate her for.

Emilienne and her youngest child

Emilienne with her youngest child

Microcredit in the late 1990s

One project Martha and I are currently working on is creating a booklet highlighting World Concern’s work in Haiti over the past 30 plus years.  This means doing some serious digging through old reports and files looking for important dates, photos and milestones in our organizations history in Haiti.  It is tedious work but definitely has its benefits.  One such benefit is finding fascinating details about projects we implemented 5, 10 and 20 years ago.  While looking through a report today from December 1998 through May 1999, I found the story of a woman named Mrs. Joseph Duclehomme.  This woman was part of World Concern’s microcredit program and shared about her experience.   

Her story read like this:

“My name is Mrs. Joseph Duclehomme.  I have three children and I am a member of the village bank ‘Bank Tet Ansanm’ (Head Together).  This is my first loan in the association.  I borrowed 1,500 gourdes ($100) from World Concern Haiti for six months.  My principal activities are buying basic food from a market and selling it to another local market.  After each market trip, I make a little profit and save some money to pay my loan.  I have already reimbursed five months capital and interest.  Next month I will pay my last installment.  Thanks to this loan, I can now pay for tuition for my children.  Before the loan, I paid about 50 – 100 gourdes a month for a tithe for my church.  Since I got the loan, I now pay around 100 – 150 gourdes a month.  I love my church because this is the place where I meet God every week.  I hope to see World Concern supporting more women in this locality because there are so many needs.”

And this is just one of many stories I have stumbled upon so far while doing research.

Women_Credit Training_WC Project Report Dec 1998 - May 1999

So this picture looks super old thanks to the poor resolution and lack of color (since it was scanned with a black & white scanner) but it is actually from the same report as the story above in 1999. Here, women are being trained in business management before receiving their first loan with World Concern.

 Beginning in 1989, World Concern Haiti began offering small loans to low income small business owners.  This program continues to this day and currently provides services to over 5,000 clients across the country.  Many merchants in Haiti are women.  In Haiti women are the backbone of the economy.  Therefore supporting them in their income generating activities is very important to ensuring that families in Haiti are able to meet their basic needs.

It is encouraging to see how World Concern has been impacting people in Haiti for quite some time, and especially women through microcredit.

Exploring microcredit in Haiti

In Haiti, formal jobs are few and far between.  Formal jobs have set wages and normal working hours.  These are the types of jobs that many people outside of Haiti are blessed enough to have.

The UN Special Envoy for Haiti has estimated that no more than 10 percent of jobs are generated in the formal economy; meaning that the majority of Haitians earn their livelihood by operating some kind of small income generating activity.  Haitians are very entrepreneurial and industrious.  However being proactive can only take you so far.  Many people lack opportunity and the ability to access credit.  The financial system is not designed to benefit the poor.  This is why microcredit is an important development tool in Haiti.  Providing people at the bottom of the economic ladder with a small loan and quality training can give them opportunity and access to important resources.

Since 1990, World Concern has been using microcredit in Haiti to support small business owners.  Martha and I have witnessed the positive impact microcredit can have on the lives of people in Haiti.  I have really enjoyed becoming more familiar with our microcredit program in Haiti and speaking with both staff and clients that we serve.  I recently wrote a three part blog series about microcredit in Haiti for the World Concern blog.  Below you will find links to each of the three posts.  I encourage you to check it out!

Microcredit in Haiti Part 1 – How microcredit can create opportunity

Microcredit in Haiti Part 2 – How microcredit works (‘the nuts & bolts’)

Microcredit in Haiti Part 3 – How our program is unique