Making Money Matter

I have been in Ouanaminthe, Haïti for a week now. Besides learning a little bit of Kreyol and grasping very little Spanish, I am also learning a lot about and from the people here: understand how things work and find opportunities to empower Haitians to change standard of living.

This weekend, I helped out Solisyon Kominote Yo, with the Financial Literacy course for the CODEVI employees. Solisyon Kominote Yo is a local organization committed to improving the lives of the community of Ouanaminthe. It emerged from the Ouanaminthe Social Innovation and Impact Consortium – a network of local organizations, the global network of Ashoka Fellows, and the IFC, which continue to act as advisors.

5CODEVI is the largest employer in Ouanaminthe, with approximately 7,000 workers, as these workers and their families represent more than half of the population of Ouanaminthe, empowering these employees can impact the lives of everyone in the town. This was the first time I saw Solisyon Kominote Yo in action.

Although I do not fully speak or understand Kreyol, I was very impressed. The three things that impressed me the most were: the participants’ thirst for learning, the trainers’ motivation and the content: the first class was so engaging that I was thinking about which expenses I myself could reduce!

The training program puts the issue of “money” on the table. It seeks to encourage the participants to think about how they spend their money and how they could better spend it so that they can have “more” money. It relies on engaging conversations and on interactive games. At the beginning, the big M word is associated with trouble. Participants claim:

“There is never enough of it!” and sometimes even add “If I spend all my salary on food, how can I save?”

This weekend, all of the sessions I attended were part of the first round of classes. Each weekend, workers from different factories are invited to attend the classes. The second round of classes will start approximately one month later. This week end, each class had approximately 30 students. Last weekend there were more than 60 workers coming at once. This high level of attendance, and the students’ active participation in class are testimony to participants’ interest in learning how to better manage their finances. The workers come to these sessions after a long day at work, or on their only free days of the week, at weekend. I was strongly impressed by the thirst for learning and receptiveness to the content of the sessions.

The atmosphere in the classroom is totally different from that in any classroom I have ever been to. The level of interaction and personal involvement are very high. Everyone contributes. At first, the trainers break the ice with a few games, for example, with a singing competition. That helps participants relax, get to know each other, and feel more comfortable. They make every single student in the classroom be part of the learning process.

Then the training goes into the substance of the course, which seeks to change the way participants think about money. They learn to identify inflows and outflows. The course helps participants think about the types of expenses they have, such as continuous, one-time, unexpected or unnecessary as opposed to savings. The participants then have to identify, as part of an interactive game, the expenses that they can reduce or eliminate.

Before this training, participants would get stressed whenever they would think of money, but after this training money gets a new meaning – it becomes something that they learn how to manage and control. The participants start coming up with solutions for how to generate money for their families as well. One participant raised his hand saying that he could use his motorbike as a taxi, which would allow him to earn more money for his family.

And that is the essence of this training: encourage the workers think about “money”. The training does not say, “you should spend more on this and less on that”, but simply says “just think about it,” and provides the participants with tools to better think about it. That brings a change of attitude towards money. When participants leave the training session, they are already asking questions on the homework they have to give back before the next class, in the following month. And just half an hour after the session ends, the trainers’ phones start ringing, with participants asking for help or advice.

6

Louise Piffaut is French, and studied Economics and Politics in the United Kingdom. She has a strong interest for economics of development, and loves travelling. She is currently an intern for CESolutions and Ashoka in Haiti. Last summer, she did an internship at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. In September she will start a Masters in Economics and Business at Sciences Po Paris.

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