Haiti Field Update: Removing Roadblocks

A woman carts her goods home from her day of selling at the Cap Haitien market.

Assessing Our Impact in Haiti

The entrepreneurs who work with FINCA know their business. They understand their clientele, their competition and the ebb and flow of demand for their product. FINCA Canada’s goal is to enable them to achieve success on their own terms. An essential part of that is understanding the obstacles that stand in their way, a lesson we were recently reminded of during a field visit to Haiti.

“It can be difficult for us–who can purchase almost anything at our local mall or through the click of a mouse–to grasp the challenges of running a small business in a developing economy,” says Jane Imai, FINCA Canada’s Senior Program Manager. Imagine having to cart your wares to and from the market every day in a wheelbarrow or in the back of a pickup truck. Imagine being stuck in daily traffic jams so congested that a 15 km drive takes you over two hours. Add to that the demand of more than four hours of daily household chores, such as gardening and getting firewood and water.

Market sellers in Cap Haitien commuting to work.

Understanding Client Needs

FINCA Canada wants to empower entrepreneurs–particularly women–in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to succeed. “In order to do this effectively, we need to trust their know-how,” says Imai. “We need to understand their roadblocks and ensure the services we are offering meet their needs.”

A recent FINCA International study found that household demands give men a three-hour head start on their female counterparts. What else is holding women back?

FINCA Canada, in partnership with Global Affairs Canada (GAC), launched a gender assessment to better understand this disparity. The goal is to ensure our products and services are meeting the needs of all FINCA clients in Haiti and the DRC while taking into consideration gender-based differences.

Best Laid Plans

Imai traveled to Haiti in February to run the field work for the assessment, including running focus groups with current clients.

The plan was to hold eight focus groups with business women and men from across the country as well as a series of one-on-one in-depth interviews. However, an eruption of unexpected political unrest and social turmoil made it impossible for participants to attend the focus groups safely.

“It was really challenging,” says Imai. “Our team in Haiti had done all kinds of work to set up these meetings, and then chaos erupted and people were unable to leave their homes. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the struggles our clients regularly face.”

In the end, FINCA Canada’s security protocols meant Imai had to cut the meetings short and leave the country.

Picking Up Where We Left Off

Despite this setback, Imai remains undeterred.

FINCA’s clients rely on us to support the progress of their business. The backing they receive from FINCA contributes directly to the betterment of their families and communities.

Plans are already in place for Imai and members of the FINCA Canada team to return to Haiti to complete the gender equity research.

“This work is never seamless,” says Imai. She warns against the North American habit of focusing on short-term objectives, rigid timelines, and a checklist approach. She points out how social and political instability can lead to unexpected delays; however, she adds that taking the time to truly understand the needs of the businesswomen we serve, guarantees we are helping to make a real impact.

“And that,” she says, “makes our contribution truly meaningful.”