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Ready, Steady, Yo!

Haiti, October 28, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    courtesy of Nick Lesher  </span>
    Yo's Madelaine Anglade and Zafèn's Patrick Dessources. Photo: courtesy of Nick Lesher

Over the weekend of October 16, the third annual “Artisans en Fête” (Artisans Festival) took place in Port-au-Prince. The two-day fair attracted more than 200 artisans that came from all corners of Haiti, presenting wares such as arts, crafts, regional beverages, foods and clothing. The display of colorful products was met by the friendly laid-back feel of a weekend family event. There was something for everyone.

I arrived on site early on Sunday to meet up with Patrick Dessources, Business Analyst at Zafèn, one of our many local partner organizations in Haiti. Patrick and I had planned a long day of meetings with the dynamic owners from a number of Haitian small and medium enterprises. We walked from booth to booth talking to some of the most amazing, friendly and creative people we could imagine.

And then we arrived at Madeleine Anglade’s booth. First of all, the bright and cheerful posters really caught our eye. Then there was a big ice cream freezer box in the back. But right before us were a set of mini-baskets filled with grains including millet, oats, peanuts and sesame seeds — all natural products of Haiti. This small display represented the main ingredients of Yo cereal bars.

Madeleine, a Québécoise woman who has been living in Haiti for more than 25 years, explains to us that she’s been making Yo for a year now. The recipe uses only locally-produced cereals, sourced throughout the country from specialty locations. With Yo and the Caprice the ice cream brand, Madeleine has a business of 28 employees, located in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

Madeleine explained: “People try Yo, they all really like it [as we did too] but I can’t find a good distribution channel for it. I think the best way to retail Yo is through street vendors but I don’t know how to reach them. I work with a few but it’s hard to scale up. It’s a shame because there is easily 20 percent profit to be made for the vendors”.

Madeleine has also developed a school snack version of Yo to diversify her consumer base. In the street, a Yo cereal bar retails for 10 Haitian gourdes (about US$0.25).

“I don’t need a business loan just now, I’m OK with the production — I have the ice cream business supporting Yo," she says, "But what I need is a strong distribution strategy and support on my business model.”

Our partner Zafèn’s mission is not only to provide small and medium enterprises like Madeleine's with business loans, but also business development services and strategy advice. Patrick and Madelaine will meet again later this week to work out what can be done to help Yo.

We walk away chewing a Yo bar and feeling very energized. Working with businss at a time, little by little, Mercy Corps and Zafèn can harness the power of entrepreneurship to create employment and fully contribute to strengthening Haiti's emerging economy.