May 8, 2012 Port-au-Prince—Zafèn, a crowd-sourced funding opportunity for small growing businesses (SGBs) in Haiti, has surpassed the $1 million threshold as it commemorates its second year of empowering entrepreneurs and supporting social projects in this economically promising nation.
Evidence that Zafèn is indeed building Haiti back better comes in the form of 760 new jobs created at 110 businesses across the country that have received loans. More than 250 of the jobs are full-time, while 197 are part-time and 311 are contract or seasonal positions.
“Jobs to earn a decent living and provide for their families: that’s what most Haitians, men and women, want. Not hand-outs,” said Carine Ronen, a director at Fonkoze, Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor. Zafèn operates as a program of Fonkoze.
Zafèn users around the world lent about $428,000 to small Haitian businesses since its inception in April 2010. Another $664,000 has been donated to 20 socially oriented projects, such as funding elementary school tuition, clean water filters to halt the spread of cholera and the creation of a henhouse for which 100 women in Derac (Northeast) share management responsibilities.
The Vincentian Family, a network of religious and lay organizations that continue the work of Saints Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, hosted a wildly successful match program during the Thanksgiving through Christmas season of 2011. It raised more than a half million dollars for Fonkoze’s Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program, which translates into English as “Path to a Better Life.” As a result, several hundred of the poorest families in rural Haiti will be able to participate in an 18-month proven program that enables them to build a stable home with a sanitary latrine, pursue two different business opportunities and enroll all of their children in school as they progress into self-sufficiency. Based on average family size in Haiti, more than 2,000 parents and children are expected to benefit from the program.
The Rev. Joseph Agostino, C.M., Vincentian family coordinator for the Haiti Project, said, “Providing opportunities that empower those in need to break out of the dehumanizing cycle of poverty lies at the heart of the Vincentian mission. Sts. Vincent and Louise did this in 17th century France; we continue to do it today in Haiti and throughout the world.”
New Home Page
Meanwhile, a new home page created to better serve Zafèn users came online during Zafèn’s anniversary month. It was designed by Tronvig Group, a creative agency in Brooklyn, New York that helps non-profit and arts organizations with marketing and branding.
“We designed the new home page as an evolution of the old, leaving the main menu in place, but adding a prominent slide show with images and text that explain what Zafèn is and how it works, and how easily you can support Haitian businesses and social projects through Zafèn,” explained James Heaton, Tronvig Group’s president. “We brought forward the projects so you can now find a project immediately on the home page.”
“It has been a pleasure working with an organization that is really working hard to make a difference in Haiti long term,” he added.
“Zafèn is an important platform for the Haitian Diaspora worldwide who fund projects in their hometowns to create community impact,” said Katleen Felix, chair of the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group. “We surveyed our users, especially in the Diaspora, to learn ways to serve them better. The new map and search engine were designed to help them quickly identify where we have active projects. We have already received positive feedback on the new page and notice a greater interest from the Diaspora.”
Solutions, a Port-au-Prince-based technology company, built the page and its functionality, bringing the new, easier-to-use and understand page to life. “The new Zafèn home page is designed to make it easier for any visitor to get engaged from the first click in support of hard-working and creative entrepreneurs in Haiti,” said Kurt Jean-Charles, CEO of Solutions S.A. “As a Haitian based IT company, Solutions S.A. is proud of this experience with Zafèn and Tronvig and thankful for the opportunity to make it happen by coding with a purpose. This launch also gives us a chance to praise the heroes that made a real difference with their loans and to invite more contributors to join Zafèn in the future.”
Zafèn, which means “It’s our business” in Haitian Creole, was developed to stimulate collaboration between Haiti-based business owners, the Haitian Diaspora and others interested in supporting the Haitian economy. It is unique in its criteria because businesses must demonstrate an anticipated impact on the broader community from the loan or donation by hiring more employees, operating more efficiently, becoming more environmentally friendly or other measures. Zafèn was founded by four organizations: the International Vincentian Family, an assembly of people worldwide affiliated with organizations who find inspiration in the legacies of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac; DePaul University in Chicago, the largest Catholic university in America; Fonkoze, Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor serving more than 200,000 clients; and the Haitian Hometown Associations Resource Group, which enables the Haitian Diaspora to foster economic and social growth to alleviate poverty in their native communities.