In rural northeastern Haiti, you have to know where you’re going, because there are no maps. And despite the terrible roads, poor infrastructure, and inaccessibility of information, everyone has adjusted. Haitian families, businesspeople, and school children go about their everyday lives simply “knowing the way” to their destinations. “Walk until you hit the river; then veer left after the blue house.” “I’ll meet you outside that abandoned church.” And perhaps because accurate maps are largely unavailable, few people know how to read them.
Yet mapping technology is helping HOPE fight poverty in Haiti. Because HOPE and our local partner, Esperanza International, desire to serve the poorest aspiring entrepreneurs, our community bank members often live in tiny, hard-to-reach towns where no banks want to go. The team of five loan officers who serve in Haiti works with 84 community banks spread across roughly 250 square miles of mountainous countryside. In order to reach clients, loan officers typically travel deep-rutted dirt roads by motorcycle. Yet with no access to maps, loan officers sometimes spend too much precious time shuttling back and forth between training meetings, repayment meetings, and client visits. When streamlined travel helps more families escape poverty, simply “knowing the way” is not enough.
In response, HOPE staffer Dan Williams introduced the team to Google Maps. “Many Haitians are not taught to use maps in school growing up, so just looking at Haiti from a bird’s eye perspective was mind-blowing to them,” he explains. The team used the online satellite technology to chart the locations of each loan officer’s community banks, and the maps have revolutionized the way loan officers approach their daily travel. “If we’re going to reach as many people as possible with the limited time we have, we need to think differently,” Dan explains. He expects this knowledge will mean loan officers spend less time driving and more time coaching and encouraging clients; less money on fuel and motorcycle repair and more money lending business capital to capable entrepreneurs.