On January 12th, 2010, a magnitude 7 earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, Haiti, destroying much of the city and leaving over 250,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless. To this day, nearly 370,000 people remain displaced, living in temporary tent camps without the most basic needs for survival. Partners in Health describes the island nation of Haiti as “one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Before the earthquake, Haiti’s per capita income fell below two dollars a day, at about $660 annually. At the same time, the health of the Haitian people also ranks as the worst in the hemisphere.”
Even prior to the earthquake, Haiti has been plagued by donor dependency and so called “dead aid”. This has created a culture of dependency. Many people become complacent, relying on a monthly hand-out of rice and a plot of land to keep their US AID tarp. What people need more than just help, is the kind of help that enables them to rely upon themselves, to take control over their own destinies, and to re-construct their lives and their nation. From our extensive experience working in post-quake Haiti, it has become apparent to us that these communities rally together in time of need. Many of these families are barely managing to scrape by, relying on sporadic jobs and quick loans to meet their financial obligations. Yet in their desperate time of need, they offer anything they have to their neighbors, even when they themselves have nothing.
In August of 2012, I founded a company called Edike Ayiti (Edike meaning empowerment & education in Haitian Kreyol). At Edike Ayiti, we believe the key to a bright future for Haiti lies in inspiring the future generations to re-take control over their own lives. Our idea begins with something as simple as a backpack, handcrafted by local Haitian artisans using waxed cotton and locally sourced leather in Port-au-Prince. These people have the skills, but they lack the opportunity. We take a ubiquitous and time-tested product and re-envision it in a full-circle process. Our company provides employment to those of working age, and with a percentage of the revenue from sales in North American markets, we have a dynamic development fund with multiple goals: we work with the Pitye school in Port Au Prince and help provide education to the younger generation, and also integrate the one-for-one model by donating a backpack filled with school supplies and a hygiene kit to a child in need for every bag sold (which we recognize in our competitors, as an exclusive social strategy, as a limitation and point of criticism). In addition, we will continue funding micro-entrepreneurship programs to help the community members we work with develop the small business of their choice. Credit is nearly impossible to come by for those living in poverty in nations such as Haiti, so however important small business is to economic and social recovery, it remains difficult to access. The principles of Grameen micro-lending are integrated and applied. We see ourselves as the steppingstone towards financial independence and freedom for our friends in Haiti. From internet cafes functioning as data entry training centers during off-peak hours, to motorcycle taxi businesses, to atelier shops, the opportunities can and should be endless.
Edike Ayiti is a hybridization of a social business and a corporate model. The company is fundamentally for profit and its operation in North America is structured to take advantage of the facets of a modern market to achieve success. But the dedicated dividends representing a percentage of profit is managed on a non-loss, non-dividend basis to new create opportunities for the communities we work with; a separate but important element of the company’s operation. We have created an exclusive line of waxed cotton & leather backpacks, tote bags, and jewelry to be sold in high fashion retail shops and through our e-commerce website (currently under construction). As we develop, our product line will expand to purses, laptop bags, duffels, satchels, clutches, and eventually further diversified apparel. Bernard James, a designer and employee at Ferragamo, is functioning as our lead creative consultant and designer and is enabling us to create leading-edge, high fashion, and in demand products through his expertise and industry relations.
All of our products are made by local artisans at a facility called INDEPCO, a Haitian nonprofit organization located in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince that focuses on diversifying the skills of its workforce while providing an exceptional wage and training. INDEPCO is the largest network of micro-entrepreneurs in Haiti’s garment sector, with 600 workshops and nearly 7,000 workers in 32 cities throughout Haiti. Because of this relationship that we’ve formed, there are few limits to maintaining our business model, our social goals, and simultaneously diversifying and expanding our products. Financial transparency is important when a company is accountable to providing social benefits, so our financials and quarterly reports detailing our successes and our challenges will be available on our website.
In North America, there is blossoming and significant demand for durable and aesthetically pleasing consumer goods associated with social dividends, and producers operating in this market function in a small pool of niche competition. Our dynamic potential for growth, expansion, and scaling, our ingrained community relationships, our aesthetic advantage and creative consultation, and the multi-media and marketing skill-sets of our team members sets us apart from our prospective competitors. Video and photo savvy promotion enables us to create narratives to connect the lives and stories of North Americans and Haitians. Events, social media, and relationships to be developed in the music industry will all serve as major components to our marketing strategy and at the onset, allow us to gain significant visibility, market penetration, and develop aninteractive relationship between our consumers, the communities we work with, and the company.
Our goals are:
• To CREATE beautiful, durable goods.
• To CHANGE how profitable businesses can maintain social goals
• To SHARE the stories of the communities in Haiti and build interactive multi-media
• To COMBAT barriers to education
• To INSPIRE creativity
• To STIMULATE industrial growth