By Leigh Carter
On Tuesday, January 12, 2010 a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake wholoped Haiti, just of its Port-au-Prince capital. An estimated 3 million people were affected by the quake, and the Haitian government reported that an estimated 316,000 people died, 300,000 were injured, and more than 1 million were suddenly homeless. Immediately, Anne Hastings (pictured on right, with Leigh Carter), CEO of Haiti’s Alternative Bank for the Organized Poor, Fonkoze, leapt into action.
As the largest microfinance institution in the country, serving more than 45,000 women borrowers — most of whom live and work in the countryside of Haiti — its network of 43 branches covers every region of the country.
“I realized the day after the earthquake the true impact were were making because almost all of the Fonkoze Central Office employees, despite having lost loved ones and their homes, showed up for work,” Hastings recalls. “They understood that if they did not, people all over the country would suffer. It was breathtaking.”
The making of an amazing woman
Back in 1996, Hastings was the co-owner, senior partner and managing director of Scanlon & Hastings, a management consulting company in Washington, D.C. For 15 years, she provided strategic management services to executives and helped new organizations achieve steady growth.
With a PhD from the University of Virginia, and an Honorary Doctorate in Business Leadership from Duquesne University, she completed research fellowships at the Brookings Institute and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, both in Washington, D.C.
But at 40something, the mom and successful entrepreneur felt something was missing in her life.
So when her son was about to graduate from college, she signed up to join the Peace Corps. Upon meeting with the organization’s director of International Operations, though, her plans changed slightly.
“He asked me if I’d be interested in doing a tour in Haiti, and I said sure,” Hastings recalls, noting the Peace Corps was not working in Haiti at the time, but the director had another idea in mind. “He told me about a friend of his who was a priest in Haiti doing amazing work, and who needed someone with my skills.”
More than a mission
It didn’t take long for Hastings to connect with Fr. Joseph Philippe, a grassroots leader in Haiti. Within three days of receiving her impressive resume, Philippe asked her to be the director of a new bank called Fonkoze that he was setting up for the poor.
“We met, and in the first 15 minutes of our conversation, I knew that he had more vision than some of the top executives I had worked with in D.C.,” Hastings notes.
That day, when she committed to one year as a volunteer, she couldn’t have known that she had found her life’s work, which she would devote herself to for the next 15 years.
When Hastings arrived in Haiti, Fonkoze had one office, five unpaid employees, and 50 outstanding micro-loans.
Today, Fonkoze is Haiti’s largest micro-finance institution dedicated to the alleviation of poverty. It has 43 branches throughout rural Haiti, 840 employees, 45,000 outstanding micro-loans, 2,000 client centers, and more than 200,000 clients with savings accounts.
More than 95 percent of Fonkoze’s clients are women, and the organization is based on the understanding, “you can’t just hand a woman a loan and walk away.”
So Fonkoze has developed a suite of services that include:
- Client education: literacy, business skills, and health training
- Social Impact Monitoring
- Full-service banking and distribution of remittances from abroad
- Programs for ultra-poor women to prepare them for entrepreneurship
- Health programs, including the fight against malnutrition and cholera
The institution also has initiatives such as Kore Fanmi Fonkoze, a program that was put into play in 2010. And, through Fonkoze’s Stairway Out of Poverty, the organization helps women who are catastrophically poor, those who are operating successful businesses in rural markets, and women ready to enter the formal sector and start a small- to medium-sized business.
Keep moving forward
While her journey hasn’t been easy, it has been incredibly rewarding, says Hastings, who in 2009 was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of Sèvis Finansye Fonkoze (Fonkoze Financial Services).
Over the yeas, she has won dozens of awards for her work, including the 2005 Pioneer in Microfinance Award of the Grameen Foundation USA. In 2008, she was honored at the United Nations with an award from Women Together because of her commitment to the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger. Just last year she was honored, along with Fr. Philippe, as a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year for Latin America.
But there are some things for which one cannot prepare when working in a country like Haiti, Hastings admits. So in addition to becoming fluent in Haitian Creole and the Haitian culture, she continues to learn how to effectively help the people she serves.
Her goals for 2011 and beyond are to make Fonkoze a lasting institution that will endure long after she is gone. And, she hopes that it will continue to accompany and empower women as they struggle to bring their families out of poverty and will contribute to a stronger, more stable economy in Haiti.
Daily, she teaches others to become leaders by following these four principles:
1. Set your sights on what today looks to be the impossible.
2. Plan for continual crises beyond your control in the environment in which you are operating. View them as occasions for discovering new opportunities.
3. The best way to meet your financial goals is to do a better job, everyday, of providing the right mix of services to your clients. Their success automatically leads to your success.
4. Never underestimate the potential of an empowered woman.
To watch Hastings in action, visit: