The earthquake in Haiti has called attention to the role that micro-finance can play in developing countries, especially following a catastrophe. The largest microinsurer in Haiti was in a position to respond more quickly than many traditional financial entities, a story reported in Newsweek last month:
Hollywood couldn’t have done it better. Late in the afternoon on Jan. 22, an armored car packed with $2 million in cash rolled out of J.P. Morgan Chase headquarters in downtown Miami, headed to the Homestead Air Force Base. Thirty-four bricks of bank notes packed into ordinary office supply boxes were loaded onto a C-17 transport plane redeployed from Langley, Va., and dispatched to Haiti, lighting up switchboards at the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, the Federal Reserve, and military rescue bases in Port-au-Prince.
Before dawn the next day, the stash was on a helicopter bound for 34 branches of microlender Fonkoze. While Port-au-Prince’s nine commercial banks were in a shambles and Western Union was paralyzed, half of Fonkoze’s 42 agencies were up and running in four days, and all but two of the rest within a week. The amounts were trifling: no more than a few dollars per client. But for tens of thousands of desperate Haitians, the nimble infusion of cash amid the chaos and ruin literally meant survival. For the legions of aid bureaucrats, charities, civic groups, and emergency organizations struggling to get a grip on the Western hemisphere’s worst natural disaster in memory, Fonkoze’s nationwide client base of 200,000 depositors (50,000 of whom are also borrowers) was a ready-made lifeline. Could microcredit be the new Red Cross?