Encouraging Haiti’s entrepreneurial spirit
It’s no secret that Haiti, economically speaking, is a very poor country. Formal sector jobs are scarce, especially in rural areas, so in order to get by ordinary Haitians have to create their own sources of income. For many this means farming. For others it means driving a motorcycle taxi. For others still, it means making and selling charcoal in an open-air market.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that in order for Haiti to move forward – both individually and as a nation – the entrepreneurial spirit of its people needs to be encouraged. This is why, since the start, Haiti Partners has sought ways to support the people we work with in their efforts to improve their lives through entrepreneurship and, specifically, the creation of small businesses.
What We’re Doing
We’re developing a learning experience for students that cultivates the values and skills needed to create small businesses. Knowing that we learn best by doing, we have also helped develop multiple social businesses: two poultry farms to support our partner schools and a handmade Haitian paper enterprise to support the Children’s Academy. Most recently, Children’s Academy co-founder, Merline Engle, has launched “Merline’s Hot Sauce,” through which she works with parents and youth at the Children’s Academy to produce Caribbean Scotch Bonnet peppers at the school and in their gardens. Through this initiative she is helps teach entrepreneurship by creating a variety of hot sauces that generate income for the school and parents.
Our entrepreneurship trainings have resulted in Haitian partners starting businesses ranging from a guesthouse and restaurant, to small boutique grocery stores, to producing and selling jewelry, to a consultation business. Again, given that there are so few formal jobs, providing people with job skills is key to them securing work contracts. Thanks to our partnership with Extollo International, we’ve also provided extensive training in the trades – including earthquake resistant construction – to parents at the Children’s Academy and others. Graduates of Extollo’s program built the 2nd building at the Children’s Academy.
To address the lack of capital available to Haitian entrepreneurs – like the parents of students at our schools – we organize village savings and loans groups (VSLs). These groups work entirely independent of outside support, encourage responsible saving, and provide significant amounts of capital to members. In three short years we’ve gone from one group of 30 to over 500 parents, staff and other community members engaged. Tens of thousands of dollars have been lent, and repayment rates hold steady at about 98%.