Unstoppable women “Les Madans Sara”

Outside of Haiti, little is known about these amazing and courageous women who oftentimes put their lives at risk every day to provide a better future for their families. A “Madan Sara” is a businesswoman who will travel to rural regions in the country to buy local goods and bring them to the city markets to sell. Normally, we find two types of Madans Sara: those who are wholesalers and those who work in the retail business by reselling large stocks in smaller portions.

It is a profession that is normally passed on from mothers to daughters, and in many occasions this tradition has been in the family for several generations. Most of them do manage to improve their quality of life and raise their family households’ income. But as in any other business, Les Madans Sara have to face several challenges: access to capital, transportation, and security issues.

In Haiti, much like any other country, getting access to capital could be extremely challenging for entrepreneurs. This proves to be even more challenging because of the country’s political instability and the lack of a strong financial and banking system. Most Madans Sara come from a humble background and have never been introduced to banking services; even if they have, most of them lack the necessary guarantees to obtain a loan. This gap has allowed for an informal loan market, called “eskont,” to be created and grow significantly in recent years. Loans are given at extremely high interest rates of 50% or more. Borrowers’ safety could be at risk if they fail to repay because lenders will use any method (robbery, extortions, etc.) to settle their debt.

Transportation is also a major challenge for them and for everybody living in the island. Road infrastructure in Haiti has a lot be said, and while there are still cars and trucks moving around the country, many succumb to their neglected state. Is very common to be deceived by national highways since some of them are not asphalted, and others have holes that, based on my criteria, are better named craters. Additionally, the country’s vehicle and heavy transport fleets are relatively old and most owners don’t properly maintain their assets. It is not uncommon to see broken down vehicles parked on the side of the road while travelling to other cities. Due to these issues, some of the Mandans Sara will have to spend several hours or even the night watching out for their merchandise while the vehicle gets fixed or manage to get a different mode of transport. Oftentimes, they will have to take several vehicles to reach their final destination.

Another big concern for the Mandans Sara is their security, as they are constantly threatened by muggers and thieves who will try to take advantage of their precarious travelling conditions to either steal their money or rob their merchandise. Most commercial transactions in the country are still done in cash due to the lack of a widespread banking system, making it easier for bandits to run away with stolen money.

During my BV’s, I had the pleasure to meet one of these incredible women. Her name is Dieumene and now she is the proud owner of a store within the Bon Repo city market. She has been in the business for the last eighteen years commercializing different products, and she plans to keep on going as a long as her body will allow her. Serious and short of words, she acknowledges that her biggest asset is providing high quality products to maintain her loyal customers. Responsibility and perseverance have been a constant practice within her business. She has successfully managed to repay more than ten loans in recent years, constantly growing her venture. And by the end, with a smile in her face,  she proudly shared with me that her two kids are regularly attending school and her goal is to help them complete their university studies.

Having microfinance institutions, such as Palmis Mikwofinans Sosyal offering financial products suited for this population, has allowed and will allow many more women to continue pursuing a better future for their families and keep this tradition alive for many years to come.
Dieumene, a Madan Sara, at her store in the Bon Repos market

About the author

Alonso Espinoza

Born in Quito, Ecuador, Alonso was always curious to see the world and experience new challenges. After completing his B.A. at Paris 1 Sorbonne-Pantheon, Alonso joined his family’s business back in Ecuador as CFO for two years. He then went on to pursue his Master’s degree at IE Business School in Madrid and did an exchange program to Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing. Afterwards, he rejoined his family business to work as a Business Development Manager and later as Deputy General Manager for three years. While working back in Ecuador he promoted several activities within his family’s company to help orphaned and disabled children’s care centers and actively participated in the “De la Calle a la Cumbre” program where children from the streets were given the opportunity to challenge themselves to climb the summit of the highest mountains of Ecuador. Continuing his commitment to help others, he decided to become a Kiva Fellow. Alonso strongly believes that microfinance is a proven system that will help end poverty by creating sustainable social development.