Two hundred-fifty Haitians, Diaspora, and earnest friends of Haiti met last month at Columbia University, hosted by the School of International and Public Affairs Earth Institute, for a full-day discussing “Investing in Haitian Progress.”
Some participants are already doing business in Haiti; others have business projects in mind. Many came to gather information while others attended out of curiosity.
From agricultural production business to hopes of establishing an accounting firm, attendees were highly engaged during the day.
Co-sponsored by the Haitian Hometown Association Resource Group, (HHTARG), this was the first informational meeting for the Diaspora to learn about U.S. AID’s matching fund for investment in Haiti. The panels are the first of an Informational Road Show also to take place in Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and the Dominican Republic in May and June.
The investment program is called LEAD–Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investments, developed with the premise that the Diaspora investor has multiple interests in seeing progress in Haiti.
Difficulty accessing capital limits business growth. The matching grant program addresses this obstacle, helping to activate investment monies from the Diaspora for small and medium size businesses. LEAD will provide 1:1 matching funds with grants ranging from $50,000 to 200,000 to help capitalize small and medium businesses.
The geographic areas being targeted are Cap-Haitien, St. Marc, and Port-au-Prince with projects focused on the industries of tourism, agriculture, textiles/garment industry, construction, new technologies, alternative energy/renewables, and other productive sectors.
Starting off the day were greetings from sponsors including the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), the organization implementing the program on the ground.
Additionally, Minister of Haitians Living Abroad Bernice Fidelia emphasized how the Diaspora’s investment is crucial to “positively contribute to Haiti.”
Tatiana Wah of the Earth Institute reinforced the day’s aims when she said, “Dependence on remittances to Haiti has serious limitations.” (Monies to family members through remittances –up to 20 percent of the GDP–help with necessary day-to-day expenses and infuse cash into the Haitian economy but this form of Diaspora-input does little for economic growth and independence.]
A morning panel provided first-hand accounts (and challenges) from Diaspora entrepreneurs whose diverse businesses geographically span the country.
Fritz Clairvil of SIMACT spoke of the naysayers he encountered when in1996, Haitian professionals started the New York-based company initially focused on real estate opportunities. Now, SIMACT has a range of investment interests. Its showcase project is the Jacmel Cap Lamandou Hotel.
Panel participants, seventeen-year-old Leanna Archer with mom Maritza discussed Leanna’s Hair Products that sources oils from Haiti for their all-natural line. One current challenge: since the earthquake, they haven’t been able to find the original source who provided the avocado, rosemary, hibiscus, and almond oils, forcing them to buy in smaller volumes from pharmacies in Haiti. These oils can be sourced from other countries but that defeats the goal of Leanna’s Haiti Products, to provide jobs in Haiti.