Building Unity

Last weekend, Solisyon Kominote Yo had a field excursion with its youth group and financial literacy group. We included pertinent discussions while having some time for laughter and exploration while visiting Fort Liberte. UJANE – Union de Jeunes Association de Nord Est – and AJF – Assosasyon de Jeunes Formateurs – linked together for a day filled with inspiration and practical lessons.

UJANE met to discuss the progress of their bracelet business as they were able to sell USD $120 worth of bracelets over the past few months. They identified the following points to focus on in order to improve their business:

  • Design: Bracelets of single color sell more
  • Impact: Important to collect data to measure their impact – i.e. how many bottles they have collected (1 plastic bottle makes 2 bracelets, and on that same day we collected over 20 plastic bottles!)
  • Marketing: Enhance story-telling component – create a tag to accompany the bracelet that tells their story.
  • Branding: Need to create a brand name

They also asked some important questions, on whether they could have access to a more regular market to sell their bracelets. Unfortunately, right now the only transport we have for the bracelets are those who travel to and from the States.

We also shared with them a handmade tool that allows them to cut the plastic more efficiently, which they will build in the coming weeks.

They are very excited about this entrepreneurial opportunity and recognize the opportunity it has to remove plastic from the environment through art! They are eager to make more bracelets so they can participate in more trainings to learn a variety of pieces they can make out of the plastic.

Please reach out to olivia@cesolutions.org if you are interested in purchasing a bracelet.

We also had a meeting with the Association of Young Trainers, who had their monthly community savings bank meeting and revisited the rules within their group. They have been together for over 2 years and have accumulatively saved over 30,000 gourdes (USD $500)! They are eager to continue advancing their professional development and asked about an opportunity for an information technology course and an additional financial literacy train the trainer program.

SolKomYo encouraged them to use some of their savings from their community savings bank to jointly invest in a course they can complete together, an example of how SolKomYo encourages community actors to be agents of change and helps to identify innovative financing solutions to achieve their goals.

After these meetings, the group came together and we had a lively discussion around themes around respect, responsibility, and culture. Examples of prompts included: What is our role as youth in the household? What is the role of money and how can we manage it? Or what do we love about our culture and what must we do to value it? We all sat around a tree as we discussed these topics – to have an opportunity for youth to share and reflect on these subjects is an invaluable opportunity for peer to peer learning that SolKomYo strives to cultivate.

All in all, it was a day of exploration leaving with added insight into the future leaders of tomorrow.

 

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Members of UJANE discuss pertinent questions about life, culture, and their roles and responsibilities as youth. 

 

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Continuing to Provide Financial Services to CODEVI workers and the community

As the CODEVI Industrial Park is expanding, SolKomYo is committed to continuing supporting the workers. For the fourth consecutive year, SolKomYo has offered a program that provides financial education to textile workers and community members to provide them with the knowledge and strategies to become more financially secure.

 

Photos from the financial literacy course that SolKomYo offers to textile workers and community members. 

The 10 Financial Literacy Trainers from CODEVI who conducted the last phase of the financial literacy training are leading this program. The trainers have been involved in the Financial Literacy Program since 2014, and have since become experts on the subject, have formed their own savings groups, and have advocated financial literacy within the factories and their communities.

This year, each trainer mobilized groups of 10-20 participants, including current and former textile workers as well as community members. The financial literacy course is offered in two parts: the first introduces the participants to themes of household cash flow and the different categories of expenses, and the 2nd course teaches debt management and savings strategies. The participants receive the option to join a savings group as an immediate solution, which provides a safe place to save and take out loans.

Since 2014 when the course was started, over 750 textile workers and 150 community members have graduated from the course.  The SolKomYo goal is to continue spreading financial literacy and security to all the workers and community members so that access to financial services is a reality for everyone. Our successes to date are thanks to the commitment and support of the Levi Strauss Foundation.

Solutions in Disaster Relief

Welcome, 2017. We would like to introduce the New Year with an update we are very excited about, our new community group, the “Female Merchants”.

This originated from a gofundme project that we began back in October. You can click here to read the history and access the page. For a short overview, SolKomYo used the gofundme funds that were raised at the plight of a natural disaster in Haiti to reach the northern region that was seriously affected by floods.

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A house flooded from the heavy rains.

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The trash that accumulated from the flooding in neighborhoods around Ouanaminthe.

SolKomYo began a lending program with 15 females that were severely affected by the floods. They had lost all of their income-generating activities because the floods damaged their assets. We chose to invest in females because they are often the ones to manage their family’s finances.

We gave each family a lump sum to rebuild their small business, and they will repay 2% of that amount every month. With these payments, SolKomYo began a savings group for the recipients, so the money they pay back will enter their personal savings.

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The recipients of the micro-loans that SolKomYo provided to help rebuild their small income-generating activities.

We met with them on the 15th of January, and each recipient paid back the first amount. They all invested the money in a small trade to make income again and support their livelihoods. That is why we call them, the “Female Merchants”. With the savings group that SolKomYo plans to set up, they will also be able to build resiliency in the event of another natural disaster.

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The recipient who had her house flooded during the Hurricane, pictured above.

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The meeting with the beneficiaries when SolKomYo distributed the loans.

This project is an example of how a small investment into a family’s income-generating activity combined with a community financing program can be an effective way to support populations affected by natural disaster.

If you would like to continue supporting this project that is 100% sourced from crowdfunding, please feel free to contribute directly on the gofundme site or email olivia@cesolutions.org. Thank you!

Read the latest updates here:

Providing Financial Literacy to Goat Owners

The goat project that we began with the farmer cooperative, AFAEK (Asosiyasion Fanmiy Agwo Ekologik Kotlèt) in 2015 is going strong. All 66 goats were distributed at the end of the summer, and as more are born, the first redistribution is set for the end of this year. The goat owners are grateful to own a goat because they express how it will contribute to their economic well-being and support their families. Their goal is to own more goats, as well as other livestock, to strengthen their community and support the local population.

Beneficiary Derval, on the left, and beneficiary Wilfride, on the right, take pictures with their newly owned goats in April 2016.

While the goat project is underway, SolKomYo has introduced its financial security innovation, FOCOPI (Community Fund for Prevention and Investment), to the farmer cooperative. SolKomYo worked with AFAEK to select the most active community leaders and trained them in the financial literacy education training. SolKomYo designed a training that is dynamic and conversational to adapt to the realities of the goat-owners. Of the 17 members that participated, 9 were selected to become trainers. These 9 trainers will continue to spread the financial literacy knowledge to its community members.

SolKomYo member, Felix Bertrand, conducts the financial literacy training to the selected goat owners that will become trainers.

Financial literacy is important for the goat owners because it includes themes about understanding one’s cash flow and expenses, making a family budget, and learning about strategies to save. With this knowledge, community members can make informed decisions about their expenses and understand investments that will support their families for the long-term.

The 9 trainers also began the intermediate phase of the FOCOPI program, which is opening their own savings group. SolKomYo introduces the FOCOPI savings groups to provide a community-based solution to increase one’s savings. While the region of Cotelette is isolated, the FOCOPI savings group methodology allows group members to save and take out loans amongst themselves, without relying on a formal bank or outside group. By first forming a group with the 9 trainers, they will be able to learn the methodology and open savings groups in their communities, allowing the members to put into practice the strategies they learn during the financial literacy course.

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The trainers that were selected meet to form their own savings group. By learning the methodology, they will eventually be able to form additional savings groups in their communities.

The work that has been achieved with AFAEK, the farmer cooperative, represents the strong relationship that SolKomYo and the AFAEK members have reached. It is thanks to this partnership that the two organizations can implement programs such as FOCOPI that provide valuable services to its members.

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The beneficiaries that became specialists in the FOCOPI Basic Program. Now that they are trained, they will begin teaching financial literacy to other goat owners in their community.

Solisyon Kominote Yo would like to give large thanks to the support of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) for funding SolKomYo’s agriculture projects.

The Evolution of the Codevi Financial Literacy Trainers

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The 10 financial literacy trainers, with their blue lanyards that say “Konseye Edikasyon Finansye” (Financial Literacy Counselor). This allows other workers to identify the trainers so they can reach out to them for questions regarding their family finances and savings strategies.

The 10 Codevi financial literacy trainers continue to inspire change in their community. These 10 workers completed the first financial literary course in 2014, in 2015 participated in a series of trainings to become financial literacy trainers, and in 2016, graduated their own students from the course. This month, SolKomYo engaged them one step further, and now they will be helping communities put the saving strategies that they learned into practice by creating self-financed community banks. These banks are a safe, accessible space for community members to increase their savings and take out loans.

Some of the trainers leading their classes in financial literacy. Both Codevi workers and members from the community were invited to participate in the course.

We selected the trainers to begin setting up savings groups in their community. Before completing the training, all 10 decided to form a savings group themselves, naming themselves the Association of Young Workers. They decided all of the rules for their group, including the meeting place, the meeting time, the interest rate, and the amount of loans each member is permitted to take out. By having the group set the rules of the bank for themselves, a truly bottom up process empowers the group to be fully autonomous, allowing the bank to continue operating for the longterm without reliance on external support.

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During the savings group training, the trainers set the rules for their self-financed community bank.

Once the trainers thoroughly learn this process, they will begin to set up groups in their community and among financial literacy graduates from the course.

When we think about when SolKomYo first encountered the “Association of Young Workers” two years ago, the point of our interventions have come a long way. From a student, to a trainer, to now a savings group leader, these individuals have been empowered on many levels to become community change leaders and spread the knowledge and leadership they have gained during these programs. They continue to be very driven by what they have learned and are enthusiastic about the impact that financial literacy training has had on their family finances, as well as the impact it has had on the participants of the course.

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The trainers during the Financial Literacy Graduation in April 2016. They received certificates for the work that they accomplished.

Stay tuned- because the “Association of Young Workers”  is already asking about the possibility of being trained as SolKomYo Community Entrepreneurs!

 

 

Scaling community savings banks (CAF’s)

Over the past 18 months Solisyon Kominote Yo formed 14 savings groups (CAF’s) which include over 300 individuals in communities around Ouanaminthe including Bois de Laurance, Caris, Mont-Organize, Savanette, Dousmon and Hout Madeline. CAF’s  are community banks self managed and self financed by it’s members. In other words the group acts as small independent bank financed and managed by its members. The groups have on average between 15 to 30 members and their key to success is TRUST.

In Haiti very few people have access to formal banks, and when they need to save or borrow money they there are not many places where they can go to, especially in the countryside. In many remote rural communities moneylenders who charge from 25% to 50% interest are the only way to take a loan. To this problem CAF groups are a very simple and rapid solutions. To start and run a CAF is needed only few hours of training after which the group is ready to start saving. At the beginning the members are establishing the rules which by in large include: the value of interest rate, value of late fees, shares values, meeting day etc.

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During the meetings some members save money, others pay back their loans, when others are taking loans. The loans are usually invested in small businesses (mom and pap stores), paying for children’s education, health care emergencies and agriculture. The opportunity of saving and borrowing is creating economic and financial stability for the members, their families and the community at large. Taking a loan involves paying interests based on an interest rate that varies from 2% to 5% usually. This creates a surplus of money in the specific CAF, which is divided among the members at the end of the year. In this way CAF members feel that even though they pay an interest, this money will get back to them directly, because it stays within the community. This contrasts with finance institutions.

The majority of CAF members are women (70%) but there are males as well. The meeting takes place once a month usually during the weekend, let’s say on the first Sunday of every month, a date easy to remember. The meeting is not only a “trip to the bank” but also an opportunity for networking and escaping the everyday routine.

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Another important value of CAF’s is “community spirit”. All the members know each other very well and they are aware that only together they can advance. This is reflected in the names they give to the groups such as “All together”, “Solidarity”, “Light for life”, “Hope”, etc. As an example in September / October all the members need money to send their kids to school, buy uniforms, pay school fees and school supplies, however they know that the money they saved are not enough for everybody. For this reason they came up with a plan so that everybody can take a loan starting gradually from June. Once again this is a proof that grassroots activities, together with collective efforts and understanding, are the key to advancement and progress.

Till this moment the groups pulled together US$ 6,000 in savings, which allowed the members to take up to 700 loans which have a cumulative value of US$ 20,000.

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