Special to The Philanthropy Journal
By Sherry Todd-Green
Hope is a word that is used quite often but can be difficult to digest for those who experience constant struggle, devastation and defeat.
The people of Haiti, especially rural families, know all too well what it means to struggle. Years of catastrophic earthquakes, hurricanes, ongoing political unrest and extreme poverty leave little room for hopefulness.
Nearly 25 years ago, Fonkoze’s founder, a Haitian priest named Father Joseph Philippe, set out on a mission to reignite hope in his country in spite of what it had already endured. He was convinced that if the rural people of Haiti, especially women, who are considered the poto mitan (or backbone) of their communities, were empowered with the right financial and development tools, they would be able to effectively break the cycle of poverty in their lives. Like his mother, who was once a rural market woman, he believed women were strong and capable of beating the odds stacked against them to create futures full of hope – if empowered to do so.
Father Joseph worked hard to convince others that his plan could work. And he succeeded. Backed by supporters at home and abroad, he was able to bring his plan to fruition – creating a bank for the poor called Fonkoze (or shoulder-to-shoulder foundation). Rural families now had access to reliable financial services that empowered them to grow their small businesses and improve their livelihoods. Father Joseph knew, though, that simply handing over a loan and walking away was not enough. So his bank for the poor began offering development services such as free adult education, life skills training, access to health services and more.
What began as one man’s hope for his country has led to what is today the largest microfinance institution in Haiti and one of the largest employers in the country. Fonkoze, the bank for the poor, has grown to what is now a family of three organizations (Fonkoze USA, Fonkoze Foundation, Fonkoze Financial Services) working together to empower Haitians, primarily women, with financial and development services to lift their families out of poverty.
Together, the organizations have collectively empowered hundreds of thousands of rural women to build sustainable livelihoods and create futures full of hope and promise. There are currently over 200,000 rural Haitians who are actively participating in one or more of Fonkoze’s empowering programs – on the path to breaking the cycle of poverty for good.
“Beyond these mountains, there are more mountains” is a Haitian proverb that means once you have overcome one obstacle (a mountain), there are more just beyond. At Fonkoze, the people we serve can now face each mountain with hope as their driving force, knowing that they have a new set of tools at their disposal to face each challenge as it comes.
To support Fonkoze’s work, visit give.fonkoze.org.
Sherry Todd-Green is Fonkoze USA’s Creative Director of Communication. She plays a crucial role in strengthening Fonkoze’s brand, improving its visibility and developing the organization’s overall communications strategy. With over 18 years of experience working in the communications field for companies such as Pepsi and Sealy – she says her most fulfilling years have been the ones she has dedicated to Fonkoze USA.