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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Faustine

AFL's Wildly Successful Micro-Credit Initiative

My name is Francesca Faustine. I'm 23 years old. I'm a high school graduate. I began my studies at the local university, but for economic reasons I wasn’t able to continue.

Now I am an active member of AFL, the Women’s Association of Lafon (Asosyasyon Fanm Lafon). AFL has a program called “Little Step”, and I am the secretary of that program.

Little Step is a micro-credit initiative that permits women who don’t have other career opportunities to become independent and autonomous by starting small businesses. It's about women helping one another to live a better, more self-reliant life.

We got the idea to start Little Step because we saw the economic situation of the women of Lafon. We saw a lot of women sitting around who didn’t have work, couldn’t send their children to school, couldn’t give them enough food, couldn’t respond to their healthcare needs. We brainstormed how we could help them see to these basic needs, and we decided the best way was to increase their ability to do a little commerce.

We firmly believe that our model is scalable. In five years, God willing, this micro-credit model will allow more women to help more women –– not just the women of Lafon but throughout the whole Southeast Department of Haiti, and beyond.

Before we give anybody a loan, we first check the bank book that we’ve issued them and see how many “steps” they’ve completed. A step is a weekly contribution to the community fund. A minimum step is 100 goud (US 70¢) and the maximum step is 500 goud (US $3.50). Once they’ve taken 20 “steps”, we determine the size of the steps, and that tells us how much money we can feel confident lending them.

After three months, they’re eligible to take out a loan. We lend to people who are active, that we know we can depend on. It’s not just a matter of transparency, it’s also a matter of trust. Before we lend anybody money, the committee does a site visit, we estimate the volume of business the person can handle, to know whether or not we can lend them money.

If someone borrows money, they’re supposed to pay it back plus 2%. If they don’t pay it back on time, they pay an additional penalty. We have a disciplinary code that each woman must read and sign before she receives the loan, attesting that she understands and agrees with the conditions. But we’ve not yet encountered anyone who’s had a problem abiding by our rules.

Little Step has been so successful, and participation has grown so much, that we now have two groups, one that meets on Tuesdays and one that meets on Thursdays.

Women come to us and say they have a business they want to grow, and they ask if we can help them. And we say “Yes, that’s why we exist!” They are surprised because they've never had access to credit this easily and cheaply before.

The program teaches people to be accountable with their money because it’s not some individual’s money –– it belongs to Little Step, to AFL, to the whole community. It’s a question of solidarity. If anyone in the Little Step community has a problem, we just help them, without even having to think about it. As we see it, mutual solidarity and independence are two sides of the same coin.

––Francesca Faustine

Secretary of Little Step, Women's Association of Lafon

(Translated by Reginald Turnier)


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