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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.