Fonkoze and Madame Saras – Alex Counts Book Project

> Posted by Center Staff


Alex Counts meets two Haitian entrepreneurs.

Just what qualities make someone a “Madame Sara”?
The answer to that question lies in Grameen Foundation CEO Alex Counts’ ongoing blogging for his upcoming book about Fonkoze. As Counts travels Haiti, conversing with the country’s microfinance industry leaders in general and Fonkoze’s pioneers in particular, he often finds insights – and vocabulary – that might surprise outsiders.
Counts, who was interviewed for our “Microfinance Matters” series, joined with other friends of Grameen Bank to set up Grameen Foundation in 1997.
His recent post “Fonkoze and Madame Saras” analyzes how Fonkoze is attempting to turn post-earthquake conditions into opportunities for people determined to rebuild their lives:
Last fall I heard for the first time a term for a new type of Fonkoze client that almost made me giggle – “Madam Saras”.  It turned out to be Fonkoze at its opportunistic best – responding in an entrepreneurial way to three developments:

  1. its excess liquidity (i.e., more savings deposits, on which it pays a nominal rate of interest, than it has in microloans outstanding),
  2. the problems its poor women vendor clients were having getting merchandise because the wholesalers they bought from were not able to import enough after the earthquake, and
  3. many of the wholesalers were savvy businesswomen (known in Haiti as “Madam Saras” which refers to birds that make a lot of noise and always move in flocks) who had lost inventory in the earthquake and had their credit lines reduced or cancelled by the mainstream banks.

The dynamic leader of an association of 15,000 of these wholesalers, Marie Yannick Mezile, approached Anne last year as one of their critical buying seasons approached and asked if Fonkoze could give them the loans they needed to resume importing on the scale required.  Anne and some of her colleagues went back and forth with the Marie, saying they were reluctant to lend poor clients’ savings unless they could be sure it would be repaid and also help relieve the bottlenecks that impacted on Fonkoze’s traditional loan clients.  Ultimately, they worked out a deal that began with a pilot where 30 “Madam Saras” borrowed around $50,000 each (based on my back of envelope math), and later this was expanded to 104 and 117 clients who received loans repayable in up to three months.  Today, the director of what is now a full-fledged Fonkoze loan program has a file cabinet full of new applications – so there is significant growth potential.

Click here to read the rest of the post, and if you like what you read, don’t forget to bookmark Counts’ blog and revisit to follow his progress.
Have you read?
An Avalanche of Material (Including Repressed Memories) – Alex Counts Book Project
Haiti & Fonkoze in 10 Memories – Alex Counts Book Project
Haiti in the Spotlight as Alex Counts Begins Book on Fonkoze
Grameen Foundation CEO Alex Counts Tackles ‘Re-engineering’ Microfinance
Yunus, Grameen, & Bangladesh – What Are the Facts?
Grameen Foundation Increases Support for Strategic Human Capital Practices at Indian MFIs
On the Anniversary of the Haitian Earthquake: Fonkoze and the ‘Super Poor’