Yesterday, I met not one but three remarkable social entrepreneurs here in Haiti. The first is a young woman who is leading a local effort to help other entrepreneurs in Haiti, the second a young man who now runs the larges plastic recycling business and the last, a returned political exile from the Duvalier era that now runs a promising hydroponics business off of his roof!
Isabelle Clerie, just 28 years old, returned from the U.S. a few years ago after finishing a masters degree in the U.S. and now runs the Haitian operations of EGI, an entrepreneurial support organization that rejects the labels incubator and accelerator, but if you want to think of EGI that way, I can’t stop you.
EGI is an acronym for Entrepreneurship, Growth and Innovation. The organization was founded by Steven Keppel in 2005; it grew out of the work of Deacon Patrick Moynihan at the Louverture Cleary School, as did the subject of yesterday’s post, HELP.
The goal of the organization is to foster entrepreneurs, including especially young ones, within the formal sector of the economy. Board member Patrick Brun explains that something on the order of 30 percent of the Haitian economy takes place in the informal sector, a virtually unregulated and untaxed gray market dominated by solopreneurs. EGI wants to move more people into the formal economy where they can access resources to growth their businesses to scale.
EGI has a lawyer who offers pro bono formation advice, services and mentoring to the entrepreneurs in the program to help ensure that they take advantage of the doors that open in the formal economy, including improved access to capital.
To help young entrepreneurs get over their fear of banking, they introduce them to bankers. A common misconception in Haiti is that a bank can send you to jail for nonpayment. The loan sharks that prey on entrepreneurs in the informal sector can’t send you to jail either—but that isn’t what entrepreneurs who borrow from them should be worried about, says Robert Laforest, the attorney who sits on the EGI board and mentors the entrepreneurs.
There are a few promising entrepreneurs in the EGI fold, including Felder Jean Paul, a resourceful young entrepreneur who is building a sandal business. Presented with a $5,000 prize in 2014 by EGI, he opened a store where he could sell his handmade wares. He continues to struggle with raw material supplies, but opened a barber shop in his store where he braids hair to keep cash flow up.
About 50 entrepreneurs have now been through the EGI program, which includes a formal accounting module to help entrepreneurs master basic financial concepts and learn to track sales and profits. They also run a boot camp with support from MBA students at the University of Notre Dame. A group comes down to Haiti each year to provide intensive training.
EGI is committed to building a better Haiti one entrepreneur at a time.