Marie Marcelle Saint Gilles Gerard isn’t just the CEO of FINCA Haiti. She is also a model of leadership for her staff, her colleagues and the thousands of women she serves in the country. With extensive banking and microfinance experience, Marcelle has grown FINCA Haiti from just under 1,000 clients in 2010 to over 37,000 clients in 2016.
In the first of this interview series, FINCA talks to Marcelle about poverty in Haiti, providing financial services to Haitian mothers and entrepreneurs and inspiring women to achieve their dreams.
1. Why do you think providing access to financial services is important in Haiti?
The major reason why so many Haitian people are unemployed is because the government has not been able to create enough job opportunities or to support the population with the basic services necessary for its survival, such as health, education, social allocation. To survive and take care of itself, the Haitian population must turn to creating their own small businesses.
In Haiti, the traditional bank system is not designed for low-income people. The microfinance system is the best structure to support the Haitian people in their efforts to alleviate poverty through their very small businesses. Microfinance is much more available to them, more flexible in their collateral request, and provides financial products specifically designed for low-income populations.
2. FINCA Haiti’s clients are over 80% women. As a strategy to fight poverty, why has FINCA Haiti focused so much on providing financial services to women?
Supporting women in order to fight poverty is a strategy chosen by FINCA Haiti for several reasons. In Haiti the woman is the most important person in the family who determines the future of the children because of her devotion to her family. Women are frequently alone to take care of their children. Our focus on creating brighter futures makes it necessary to financially support Haitian women. Haitian women are also the pillar of the economy.
Therefore, by financing women we extend our reach and impact to the children.
Marie Marcelle Saint Gilles Gerard with a client in Haiti.Marie Marcelle Saint Gilles Gerard with a client in Haiti.
3. What are some of the problems women face in Haiti as business owners and how is FINCA helping them?
As entrepreneurs, women in Haiti face different types of problems. The constant needs of liquidity and financial education are the most important ones. As an entrepreneur, the need of liquidity is constant and it is hard to find funding from their family who are generally confronting the same financial problem or from the governments who have no plans to support the small entrepreneurs. This liquidity problem is more complicated and persistent for women because they are the first concerned by the daily expenses related to their family and children.
To solve this liquidity issue for these entrepreneurs, FINCA Haiti offers loans to low-income entrepreneurs, especially to women. We renew their loans as fast as possible to support the women in their fight to be financially independent.
Most of the low-income women have a poor financial education due to the very poor education they receive in Haiti. To help them with this issue, our loan officers teach them about loan management when the women are in the process to receive their first loan with FINCA Haiti.
4. You represent FINCA’s commitment to diversity and women leadership. How important is it for you promote gender diversity in the workplace?
Promoting gender diversity is so important for me not only because I am a woman but also because of our history in work environment. We’ve come a long way and still have a lot to do. I know that I am representing not only Haitian women but women all across the world. I tend to guide our female employees to improve themselves each and every day and to encourage them to educate themselves and be self-confident, because I know deep down some of them think they will never be given a chance because of their gender. I aim to help them be more confident, because to accomplish our mission we need all women on board.
Marcelle Haiti StaffMarie Marcelle Saint Gilles Gerard talks with a staff member at FINCA Haiti’s headquarter office.
5. Do you have any advice for women entrepreneurs or women in the workplace on pursuing their career goals?
I have two pieces of advice for women regarding their goals.
- You must dare to dream. Even though everything is designed to discourage you to dream, you have to dare to dream. You are worth it.
- You also have to fight constantly to make your dream comes true. It will not happen easily but step-by-step you will get closer and closer.
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