Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Eradicating Global Poverty: Is It Really Achievable?

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Eradicating Global Poverty: Is It Really Achievable?

Article excerpt

Eleven years ago, I left my management consulting business of fifteen years to go to Haiti to help a Haitian priest-whom I had met only onceput in place a bank the poor could call their own. It started as a one-year commitment, but that was eleven years ago. It turned into a life-transforming journey for me.

I'd like to begin by summarizing where that journey has taken me, including some of the successes along the way, as well as some of the frustrations. I'll be referring to some of my own photographs in an effort to make that journey come alive, because these images are probably not like anything you've seen before. Then I'd like to offer a framework for analyzing the question of whether we can eradicate global poverty by commenting on some of the perspectives that have been offered by the experts, like Jeffrey Sachs, C.K. Prahalad, William Easterly, the World Bank, and Dr. Paul Farmer. Many readers may be familiar with the work of Paul Farmer; a recent book by Tracy Kidder describes his life in Haiti as well as other countries, where he has struggled for comprehensive health care for the poorest people on the face of the Earth. Finally, I'd like to close with some very personal thoughts of my own.

In 1996, I arrived in Haiti, which, as you know, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and yet is located just one hour and a half by plane from Miami, Florida-one of the richest cities in the world. I saw hard-working women getting up before dawn every morning and going off to the marketplaces to sell in one part of the country what they had bought in another part of the country. These women were the marketers, but they were the distributors as well. They were bringing the only goods that were going to get to the rural areas of Haiti. And then they would come home at the end of a long day of selling, dead tired, and get ready for the next day. The same markets exist in the urban areas as well as in the rural areas. They're everywhere in the country. The women are very strong women who struggle hard to put food on their table every day and to send their children to school.

What I learned is that when these people are offered convenient, accessible, affordable financial services-by that, I mean savings accounts, very small loans ($50 or less), and a means for them to receive transfers from their family members living abroad-some amazing things begin to happen. Their businesses begin to grow. Their children start going to school. They put food on their table every day. When financial services are combined with educational programs, in which those who know how to read and write teach those who do not know how to read and write, even more amazing things begin to happen. When those who have successful businesses teach the other participants basic business skills, even more amazing things begin to happen. A woman might take her first business skills class after learning how to read and write with Fonkoze-lhe microfinance institution that I direct-in Haiti, in a class like the one pictured (photo 1, facing page). A woman is shown sitting at her place in the market (photo 2, following page); at the end of the day, she fills out her transaction record so that she can make a calculation as to whether she is really making a profit or not. Many of the clients' businesses are not making a profit, but the women want to know how to analyze their businesses so they can begin to grow them. When those financial and educational services are combined with health care services, such as those that Dr. Paul Farmer is providing at the medical facility that he calls Zanmi Lasante ("Partners in Health") even more amazing things begin to happen. Dr. Farmer and Fonkoze formed a partnership, called in Kreyol Kraze Sik Mizè ("break the cycle of poverty"), and Dr. Farmer is helping us to build branches of Fonkoze right next to his hospitals. When those financial, educational, and health care services are supplemented by small home improvement loans to cover dirt floors with cement, to replace thatched roofs with tin roofs, and to build latrines, even more amazing things begin to happen. …

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