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. Click read more
“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:
- 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
- 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
- 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.”
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.