Apply your expertise in Haiti

Author: Lynn Freehill-Maye

Haiti Landscape 800

When MBA candidate Sylvia Banda met a Haitian businesswoman named Claudette this fall, she immediately felt the kinship of shared entrepreneurial ambition. She also felt the reinforcement of Mendoza’s mission of business for the greater good.

Claudette, an energetic salt saleswoman in her 30s, faces complicated business challenges because of a physical disability. Her leg is disfigured by lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito-borne tropical illness also known as elephantiasis. The disease, which affects half of Haiti’s population, carries a stigma similar to that of leprosy, so some would-be customers don’t want to buy salt from Claudette.

Banda met Claudette in October on a trip to Haiti with a group of MBAs that visited Port-au-Prince and other cities throughout the country. The mission was to examine Notre Dame’s nonprofit Bon Sel Dayiti, which produces and distributes iodized and fortified salt that prevents lymphatic filariasis when consumed.

Bon Sel Dayiti’s revenues haven’t come close to covering its costs, and four MBA students who traveled to Haiti hoped to offer suggestions for next steps. That included meeting Haitians working with the project, including Claudette.

A UNIVERSITY COMMITMENT
The University of Notre Dame aims to help wipe out lymphatic filariasis in Haiti by 2020 as part of its ambitious Haiti Program, which involves numerous colleges, departments and centers throughout the University, including the Mendoza College of Business. One pillar of the program is selling iodized salt at low prices, and the University launched Bon Sel Dayiti in 1993 for this purpose.

Haiti Group

Banda and MBA colleagues Thomas Georgevits, Corinne Nobili, and Stephanie Rearick (all Class of 2017) traveled to Haiti October 16–21 to examine the Bon Sel Dayiti from a business angle. Will the venture be sustainable over time? Or will it serve better as a for-profit social enterprise?   

The trip was part of the MBA program’s Interterm Intensive program, an opportunity for students to participate in business in a developing country during fall break. The course is facilitated through the Notre Dame Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship.

A FIRSTHAND LOOK
The October trip came at an especially vulnerable time: Hurricane Matthew had struck just two weeks prior. The MBA candidates began their Haiti experience in the mountains, where they surveyed devastated crops and damage. They then visited Bon Sel Dayiti’s salt factory and the salt distribution center in the southwestern town of Leogane, where ND’s efforts are based.

The MBA group had been briefed about Haiti, its proud history of establishing itself as the world’s first post-colonial black republic, and the trade penalties and longstanding challenges to business and life that followed.

Banda, who earned her undergraduate degree from Notre Dame in 2012, had traveled to Haiti over the summer, before her investment management internship, through the University’s Center for Social Concerns.    

Banda

For Banda, meeting Claudette exemplified all the reasons she had traveled to Haiti: for business, for social good, for addressing a terrible disease. Banda was inspired when Claudette explained her motivation to sell the fortified salt, knowing that each transaction can keep others from getting the disease the way she did.

“To feel her energy, and talk to her about her sales process, I was reminded that entrepreneurial spirit is universal,” Banda says. “To see the impact she’s making despite the difficulties she has with that ailment was a great reminder that people create opportunity for themselves in really challenging situations.”

MOVING FORWARD
Banda, Georgevits, Nobili, and Rearick will work on the Bon Sel Dayiti case for the rest of the semester. They are not sure yet whether they will recommend the University initiative remain a nonprofit or become a for-profit social venture.

But Banda is grateful that the MBA program offered her the chance to apply some of her class knowledge to helping those most in need. “We’re truly asking more of business,” she says. "It’s not enough to just do your job well, but to ask the bigger questions about how we serve the most vulnerable in society.”