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Why Haiti Needs to Focus on Building a Startup Ecosystem

Haiti’s economy is sinking fast and foreign aid will not be the answer.

Here’s why.

Can you name one non-profit that has transformed an economy without the for-profit business umbrella?

The answer is probably no, or at least not one that easily comes to mind.

Now, can you name a for-profit business or individual that became so financially successful that later on was able to disperse millions of dollars towards a cause or passion, which ultimately transformed lives?

The answer is yes, plenty!

From Oprah Winfrey’s focus on first building a successful media career before starting her own foundation to support the causes that she cares about both in the United States and in Africa, to Serena William’s successful professional tennis career to becoming a co-founder of Giving Circle.

To Lee Iacocca – the former notable business executive of Ford automobiles and Chrysler who later on founded the Olivio Line of food products, made from olive oil, and donated all the profits to his diabetes research foundation.

To Russell Simmons – the entertainment mogul who subsequently founded the Simmons’s Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation to support his other passions.

The point is that all these individuals have one thing in common – they were first financially successful in business or in their career before they started a foundation or non-profit organization.

Although there is no record of a wealthy country adopting a non-profit charity model to grow its economy, that seems to be the model most of us are involved in when it comes to Haiti. Otherwise, why would a country of 10 million people have over 10,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) while the country still struggles desperately with poverty?

It’s time to change the model.

 

Like many of my fellow Haitians, I was also part of the illusion when it came to my desire to help Haiti. At one point after Haiti’s earthquake, I was involved in four different Haitian non-profit organizations serving in various capacities. From helping to raise money to getting sponsors for different events, I was convinced those activities would make a dent in Haiti’s economy.

Though those non-profits had great visions and I was fortunate to lend my support, I knew the non-profit model was not the answer.

So, in 2013, after assessing how I was spending my time and considering where I wanted to focus my effort and energy when it comes to Haiti, I made the decision to slowly resign one by one from all of the non-profits.

I wanted to build a platform where I could promote and highlight the startups in the community. I started to focus on writing about the Haitian diasporas’ role and how our collective resources can build and support businesses to take the country to an emerging market position.

The more research I’ve done, the more apparent it became that a startup and business environment will drive entrepreneurship, which in turn will change Haiti’s economic landscape.

 

High-impact entrepreneurs usually find niche markets or market inefficiencies and address them with innovative business models. They have a vision and the ability to communicate it. Perhaps most important for cities, they build businesses that make positive impacts in their communities, both economically and socially — exactly what future-ready economies should be looking to promote.

The Haitian community and those looking to expand their business portfolio have a chance to make a significant economic impact if we decide to work with our fellow citizens throughout the ten departments that comprise a market of 10 million Haitians.

The most efficient way to move forward with creating these high-impact entrepreneurs is to create startup labs in each of the ten departments where 500 startups can be built in the next few years.

These hubs would attract and work with the natives that are already producing innovative products to identify the ones that can scale and produce jobs.

Meanwhile, the Haitians in the diaspora can continue to build businesses where there is a link to Haiti. Several Haitians are already succeeding in building these startups, which I plan to write about in the next few weeks.

“From 2010 to 2013, high-impact firms grew revenues by 56 percent and employment by 64 percent. They grew aggregate revenues of nearly $100 billion by 30 percent annually for two years straight, in a period when the economy as a whole grew at less than 1/10th of that rate—illustrating their role as economic jump-starters,” the World Economic writer emphasized.

 

Haiti needs a plan to create more businesses in order to compete with the NGOs. Eventually, the NGO’ will not be able to pay the wages startups and businesses are paying, and this method will have an impact on the survival of a number of those NGOs.

“High-impact companies are characterized by a “heightened focus on building out business infrastructure and scale to meet customer demand and new opportunities … they tend to invent new business models, often acting as disruptors in their industries,” argues the 2014 World Economic Forum report.

You probably asking, well, what does Haiti need?

Haiti demands everything since most of the country was flattened due to the earthquake.

Like you, I spent time trying to figure out how to help Haiti in a way where the country can accelerate – and I believe that business and education are the country’s best hope.

So, I’ve researched a list of business ideas and created an eBook to help you get started. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but it should give you an idea of some of the needs both in Haiti and in the diaspora.

This updated eBook, “Take Haiti to an Emerging Market Position: 61 Ideas Haitians Can Do Now!” is full of practical business solutions you can bootstrap to more lofty and capital-intensive businesses. You can click here to register and download your free copy.

I’ve also included some of the products that were banned in the Dominican Republic in 2015 by roads. These products now represent ample business opportunities for potential entrepreneurs who are looking to commit and gain a foothold in the business development of Haiti.

If you’re not a Haitian native, you are going to need a Haitian partner(s) to start the business with. As someone who has worked in Haiti, doing business there is not for the fainthearted. You need to know the culture, the business environment, and the people you can trust. But you have to be trustworthy and reliable as well.

So grab your free eBook and get a head start on which business you want to focus on. Just click this link to access the free eBook.

Your turn!  Did you recently start a business? Or, are you planning to start one this year? I’d love to hear about your journey so far. Let me know in the comment section below.

About the author: Daniella Bien-Aime is the founder of the Bien-Aime Post, a digital media platform that focuses on business, leadership, education, and social media within the context of Haiti and its diaspora. Follow her on Twitter @dbienaime.

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