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March 5, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) continues its 43-year-old mission of socially responsible investing with a new structure and staff. The changes were outlined in a recent presentation to Adrian Dominican Sisters living on the Motherhouse campus.
Much of the presentation focused on the new structure of the PAB, which was put into place after the December 2016 retirement of Lura Mack, long-time Executive Director of the PAB. Most recently, Dee Joyner, Chair of the PAB at the time, was asked to serve as director of the Congregation’s new Office of Resilient Communities. This office was established to help the Congregation live out its 2016 General Chapter Enactment to “facilitate and participate in creating resilient communities with people who are relegated to the margins.” Dee, an Adrian Dominican Associate, had served as Vice President of Commerce Bank and Economic Developer of St. Louis County, Missouri. While she is no longer the Chair, her new position involves overseeing the PAB.
The PAB is now headed by Co-chairs Rosemary Martin, former Chair of the Community Investment Committee, and Kathy Woods, former Chair of the Corporate Responsibility Committee. The two committees – now working as one streamlined Board – represent the dual functions of the PAB.
In introducing the two new Co-chairs, Dee noted the “wealth of experience” they bring to their new role on the PAB. Kathy, a former Adrian Dominican Sister, was one of the founding members of the PAB, with extensive experience in not-for-profit organizations, particularly hospital work and counseling. Rosemary, an Adrian Dominican Associate from North Carolina, also has been involved in the non-profit world. She founded and directed an international adopting agency, placing more than 2,000 children from other countries into loving homes in the United States. She now works for an accreditation company for service organizations.
In both corporate responsibility and community investments, the PAB collaborates with other communities of women religious. Pat Zerega, senior director of shareholder advocacies for Mercy Investments, works with the PAB in the area of corporate responsibility. The PAB also collaborates with other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in working with corporations to help them to be more socially responsible in their actions and policies.
Since the retirement of Lura Mack, who did much of the work with community investments, the PAB sought the help of an organization that could help in that area. Members of the PAB unanimously chose the Religious Communities Investment Fund (RCIF), founded and directed by Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP.
Kris Cooper, Office Manager, has served the PAB on the staff since 2013. Other members of the PAB are Sister Patricia Leonard, OP, Associate Director of St. Ann Place, a homeless hygiene center in West Palm Beach, Florida; Sister Marilín Llanes, OP, school psychologist in Joliet, Illinois; Lloyd Van Bylevelt, an Adrian Dominican Associate who serves at the Peace Education Foundation in Miami; Marcy Brown, Vice President in Commercial Treasury Management at First Federal Bank in Adrian; and Margaret Weber, who works for the Basilian Fathers in Toronto in the area of socially responsible investment. Sister Elise García, OP, is the General Council liaison to the PAB. Pat Zerega and Adrian Dominican Sisters Judy Byron, OP, and Corinne Florek, OP, serve as consultants.
February 13, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Many people equate Haiti with poverty – with its reputation as the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere. But Leigh Carter, who has worked with Haitians for nearly 20 years, sees signs of hope in the women who have climbed out of poverty and now provide a decent life for their families.
Leigh, founder and Board Member Emeritus of Fonkoze USA – the U.S. non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for Fonkoze – gave a special presentation on the work of Fonkoze February 6 in Weber Auditorium at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse. Her presentation, “The Adrian Dominican Sisters and Two Decades of Partnering with the Women of Haiti,” followed a meeting of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB).
Founded by the Adrian Dominican Sisters more than 40 years ago, the PAB helps the Congregation to use its resources to bring about economic justice through socially responsible investing in corporations and communities. The Adrian Dominican Sisters were among the first to grant low-interest loans to Fonkoze, and have been partners with the organization since 1997.
Leigh became director of Fonkoze USA at the invitation of Father Joseph Philippe, a Haitian priest who founded Fonkoze in 1994 to address poverty in Haiti. She attributed her connection to the Adrian Dominican Sisters to Sister Maureen Fenlon, OP, who encouraged Leigh to apply for a low-interest loan from the Congregation. Fonkoze USA received $200,000 in loans from other congregations of women religious after the Adrian Dominicans approved an initial loan.
In 20 years, Leigh said, Fonkoze has become “Haiti’s largest microfinance organization,” offering loans and other banking services to individuals – mostly women – in their efforts to become self-sufficient. Fonkoze now has 45 branches throughout Haiti, with $65,000 outstanding in loans to Haitian market women, and more than 200,000 people who are saving their money through Fonkoze.
Leigh spent much of her talk describing Fonkoze’s “staircase out of poverty” program. The first step, “Chemen Lavi Miyò,” focuses on the “ultra-poor,” women who “basically haven’t managed money ever or touched money – they’re basically begging at the marketplace.” The women receive $25 loans to help them get started in a business. In addition, Leigh said, their homes are upgraded to include a cement floor, a tin roof, a latrine, and a water filter. They are also expected to send their children to school.
After two years of group training, Leigh said, the women are “arguing over who’s going to speak at the graduation in front of 400 people” – a drastic change for women who, at the beginning of the program, “can’t look you in the eye” because they feel ashamed. Not all of the women who undergo the most basic training program move up the staircase, Leigh noted, but they have still found their lives to be “amazingly improved.
Higher up the staircase, Leigh said, women are organized into groups of five or six, forming “credit centers.” Currently, she said, some 65,000 women are organized into 2,000 credit centers. The women meet twice a month – once to meet with their credit agent or to repay their loan, and the second time to receive education on anything from cholera prevention to improving their businesses.
Leigh pointed to success stories of women who began as “ultra-poor” and became successful market women. One such woman, now in the business development stage of the program, works in wholesale, which loans in the thousands of dollars. “Instead of her husband sending her money from Miami, she sends money to him,” she noted.
Fonkoze thus focuses on “meeting women wherever they are in this journey out of poverty,” Leigh said. “Some people don’t make it,” often because of challenges such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires. Nine Fonkoze branches and about 14,000 clients were affected by the recent Hurricane Matthew. Fonkoze has been monitoring all of these clients to determine who has repaid their loans, who needs to restructure their loans, and whose loans need to be written off, she said.
Photos courtesy of Fonzoke, USA
In the question and answer session, Leigh noted that Fonkoze has been able to make a difference in the lives of individual Haitians – but that Haiti, as a whole, could be in “worse shape” than when she arrived 25 years ago.
“We’re dealing with the informal sector, and for Haiti to really, really succeed, there needs to be a thriving middle class and a thriving formal sector, and people who are creating jobs,” she said. In addition, she would like to see Haiti invest more in its infrastructure, such as roads. “That helps everybody.”
In the meantime, Leigh said, Fonkoze will continue to help individual women who are striving to climb out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. “We hope to have 100,000 loan clients in the next three or four years,” Leigh said. “We’ll just keep doing what we do.”
Feature photo at top: Leigh Carter, of Fonkoze USA, gives a talk on how her organization has helped women in Haiti on their journey out of poverty. Photo by Jessica Havens.
View "Saincia's Journey Out of Poverty" on YouTube: https://youtu.be/5mAa1x3QiQQ
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