Impact Story

Improving the lives of Haiti’s women and children

Published on 10 September 2020

Collaborative work between IDS and Fonkoze has helped improve the wellbeing of Haiti’s women and children and contributed to a global move to pay closer attention to the issue of child-sensitive impacts of development programming. The partnership has strengthened research, programming and advocacy capacity in the UK, Haiti and beyond.

Introducing Fonkoze and our shared focus

Fonkoze empower Haitians, primarily women, to lift their families out of poverty through supporting them to build sustainable livelihoods. Fonkoze is Haiti’s largest microfinance institution and is well known and respected for a range of programmes, including their poverty graduation programme ‘The Pathway to a Better Life’ which builds on the model first developed by BRAC in Bangladesh.

IDS has worked with Fonkoze over the past five years, with Fonkoze leading on programming and IDS bringing expertise in research, evaluation and policy advice. Joint projects have focused on understanding ultra poverty in Haiti, advocacy to end extreme poverty, pathways to sustainability, and child-sensitive programming. Support has been provided by funders such as the British Academy, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Vista Hermosa Foundation, and the Seamont Foundation. A new follow-on project will look at building research capacity in universities and research organisations in Haiti, alongside a broad impact evaluation of Fonkoze’s graduation programme on livelihoods, resilience and empowerment.

The ongoing collaboration builds on IDS’s rich body of work on social protection, including through the Centre for Social Protection, which Keetie Roelen co-directs.

All our collaborations promote mutual learning and capacity building with an emphasis on equity and sustainability.

Contributing to positive changes in practice and policy

The partnership has strengthened Fonkoze’s poverty graduation programme and its potential to improve the wellbeing of Haiti’s women and children. The programme employs specially trained case managers to work with participating women throughout an intensive 18-month process to help them build sustainable livelihoods and the  confidence and skills necessary to further grow them and create a better life for themselves and their families. In 2019, 480 new households joined the programme, extending its reach to 1180 families.

No family can raise a child without the availability of good and affordable health services, schools and other facilities. This short film is based on the project ‘Pathways to Stronger Futures in Haiti’ and explores the experiences of women participating in a social protection programme and the impact it has had on their lives, and their children’s lives.

Collaborative research showed some important positive effects but pointed to additional areas in which the programme could make a difference. For example, it highlighted the indirect effects of increased income and improved maternal mental health as well as the direct effects of teach families the importance of talking with infants. The research also found that the approach of supporting women to set up small businesses often increased their work burden, without reducing other caring and social responsibilities. Fonkoze is now building relationships with Early Childhood Development specialists to improve this area of programming

The partnership also strengthened Fonkoze’s work to ensure sustained impact for those families involved in the programme. The research findings helped to orient Fonkoze towards resilience: previously they focused on the progress that members made during the 18 months they were engaged in the programme. Small-scale evaluations found that participants continued to progress, or at least sustained their progress, beyond this period but Fonkoze wanted to think bigger and to build their evidence base. The research helped to identify changes to programming that would contribute to long-term effects. For example, Fonkoze expanded activities that supported participants to plan their finances, including planning for long-term access to land and clean water. This marked a shift from ‘what will you do to keep growing your business’ to ‘what will you do to maintain broader wellbeing’.

For Carine Roenen, Fonkoze’s Executive Director, one of the most significant changes that came from the partnership was the result of an advocacy initiative proposed by IDS Fellow, Martin Greeley. In 2015 Martin Greeley invited Fonkoze to participate in a larger study on citizen engagement and advocacy through the Making All Voices Count project. As part of the study, Fonkoze worked with IDS to develop an advocacy plan and to share the results of their programming with a roundtable of government and non-government actors convened by the Ministry of Social Affairs to recommend a possible approach. This changed the way the Haitian government and international agencies saw Fonkoze; as a major stakeholder in social protection in Haiti. Since then, Fonkoze and IDS’s research has been cited in the National Social Protection Policy, where we played a role in ensuring that ‘graduation’ is referred to as a strategy to help poor people develop their economic position. As a result, Fonkoze has been invited to present their findings to the European Union,.

Pushing child-sensitive programming up the global development agenda

Together we contributed to a global move to put the issue of child-sensitive impacts of graduation programming on the policy agenda internationally. Bringing together our networks, and reputations as researchers and implementers, we were able to create a greater platform than we would have been able to individually. In 2019, the IDS-led Centre for Social Protection brought together policymakers, donors, researchers and practitioners at the British Academy in London to discuss how graduation programmes can be made to work for children. We included representatives and qualitative research findings from Fonkoze’s poverty graduation programme alongside presentations from the Partnership for Economic Inclusion (PEI) at the World Bank, London School of Economics, and Save the Children. The roundtable helped to spark dialogue among NGOs and others that do not have a focus on children, and to conceptually think about the idea of intergenerational graduation and what the findings mean for development programming more widely.

An equitable partnership for mutual learning

This partnership stands out as one that has managed to overcome some of the barriers and structures that make a collaboration inequitable or that limit impact. Part of its strength comes from a commitment to build a truly collaborative research agenda.

Fonkoze wanted to work with academics to analyse their programming and share this knowledge to build the visibility of their work across and outside Haiti. For IDS, it was an opportunity as a convener to help share lessons from previous collaborations with BRAC (who pioneered graduation programming) whilst drawing on our expertise and participatory methodologies, and to build our relationships with Haitian partners. The process of developing the research agenda and partnership was collaborative and participatory from the outset, and built around mutual respect on both sides for each other’s expertise and knowledge.

Often research-civil society partnerships are managed by the UK offices of each institute, rather than offices in the Global South, with implications for power dynamics, equity, and being rooted in contextual knowledge and priorities. The partners were able to complement and add value to each other by accessing both research and implementation funding and expertise.

We shared our experience of participatory and qualitative methods and supported Fonkoze to develop its monitoring, evaluation, and learning framework. Fonkoze shared invaluable contextual knowledge which included, for example, a guide to proverbs in Haitian creole to aid IDS researchers.

As this was the first time Fonkoze had integrated a research element into programming, they found the way IDS presented our research as learning briefs helpful, for example this policy brief on the work on child-sensitive programming. It gave them a way to speak to staff about the implications of the research for their practice, and then to develop new protocols and strategies, drawing lessons from the research.

IDS and Fonkoze faced challenges through the programme, but credited their ability to overcome them to open communication, trust and willingness to learn on both sides. For example, Fonkoze learned how resource intensive the process can be. Data collection by Haitian contractors was expensive and there were issues with the quality of the data. However, we worked together to build the capacity of Fonkoze staff to collect data, which they said increased the quality and lowered the cost. Steven Werlin, Fonkoze’s Regional Director, told us that ‘investing in research has been transformative both for the way we our programmes and for the possibilities there are for helping other families in years to come’.

IDS Fellow, Keetie Roelen, is a social protection expert and been part of the Fonkoze collaboration since 2015. Reflecting on the impact of the partnership on her own learning and outlook, she said:

Implementing a poverty programme is difficult. Our collaboration has definitely given me a more nuanced understanding of just how difficult it is, and a greater appreciation of that work. As researchers and evaluators, it becomes easy to criticise design and implementation processes. But having worked with Fonkoze and having seen how remote the areas are that they are working in, and how many things you have to keep in mind when programming, it’s tough! And they are doing incredible work in extremely difficult circumstances.”


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Centre for Social Protection

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