Mention of Haiti often brings forth images of rampant unemployment, desperation and a society of people who are just barely making ends meet. While this is not an incorrect image, it is incomplete.
While many people in Haiti struggle with the bare necessities of life, and hustle simply to keep their families fed and clothed — so-called 'necessity entrepreneurs' — there is also a class of successful professionals known as 'opportunity entrepreneurs' who open businesses to exploit market opportunities, rather than out of desperation. These people speak English, have attained a university degree and maintain a social network of friends and acquaintances that makes job hunting much easier.
Giovanna Menard fits into this category. As a lawyer at a top phone company in Port-au-Prince, Menard is financially secure. This relative comfort doesn’t stop her from finding time to run her own business, Artisans du Soleil.
Several years ago, Menard spent a vacation in New York taking jewelry making classes. She fell in love with the process and began designing jewelry in her spare time. The earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010 put a damper on business development, forcing her to downsize and delay the opening of the small boutique she had been planning.
Today, Menard employs between six and ten people, participates in arts exhibitions and is finally in the process of opening her boutique. When asked if she would quit her permanent position to concentrate on her business full time, Giovanna’s face lit up: “Definitely — I’m working for that, actually.”
Menard has business savvy: she developed a unique product with strong market appeal, and has successfully sustained a profitable business. Moreover, as a lawyer, she has technical expertize in legal matters that impact enterprises in Haiti.
These are skills and experiences that would help other entrepreneurs in Haiti. On the other hand, more formal business training, mentorship and help locating and coordinating raw product suppliers could help Menard to succeed in her dream of making Artisans du Soleil her primary source of income.
Mercy Corps, with the help of Western Union, is bringing the MicroMentor business mentoring program to Haiti to make these connections a reality. Entrepreneurs like Mernard can request training from their mentors in basic business skills — for example, writing business plans and balancing their budgets, as well as the most modern elements of business management, such as how to use cutting edge marketing techniques. They will also be connected to local entrepreneurs, so that their skills can be transferred throughout Haiti.
By connecting entrepreneurs with one another and with mentors abroad, MicroMentor hopes to facilitate the growth of the small and medium enterprises in Haiti, and contribute to the country’s long-term economic growth.