On Saturday, March 16th, over 225 stakeholders interested in investing in Haiti attended a day-long workshop entitled “Investing in Haitian Progress” to gain practical information and insight regarding how effectively to bring capital to that country. This event was the first in a planned series of Road Shows to Diaspora centers in the United States, Canada and the Dominican Republic. The participants mostly comprised members of the Haitian diaspora from the greater New York tri-state area, but also attracted diaspora participants from Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Puerto Rico, Montreal, Ottawa and Haiti.
PADF conceived this series of Road Shows as part of its USAID-funded Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investment (LEAD) Program. Under LEAD, PADF works both in Haiti to support Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Social Enterprises through matching grant programs and technical assistance and in the United States to facilitate mobilization of capital for Haiti from the diaspora and other stakeholders through Road Shows and other events. LEAD is a four-year, $12 million program which continues through June, 2015.
To stage this initial Road Show in New York City, PADF worked closely with its partner, the Haitian Hometown Association Resource Group (HHTARG), a diaspora organization comprising 350 hometown associations across the world. Additional support came from the Haiti Research and Policy Program at the Columbia University Earth Institute, which provided the venue for the event at the School of International and Public Affairs.
The new Minister of Haitians Living Abroad, Bernice Fidelia, addressed the participants, expressing her “deep belief in the ability of the diaspora to positively contribute to Haiti.” She additionally praised PADF’s “30 year partnership in Haiti,” insisting that the organization has become “a household name.” She also promoted LEAD. Former Prime Minister of Haiti, Gary Conille, addressed the workshop, praising LEAD, for “encouraging entrepreneurship and creative development, both vital to the growth of essential sectors” in Haiti.
A featured agenda item at the event was a comprehensive presentation of the LEAD Business Plan Competition (BPC) application process. The BPC provides matching grants to SMEs in need of capital from a $5.5 million fund. PADF has re-vamped the BPC program for its newly-launched second phase, including creating an electronic platform for applications to facilitate participation from the diaspora.
Recognizing the myriad obstacles to diaspora investment in Haiti, PADF arranged a session with a panel of entrepreneurs who have direct experience creating and running businesses in the country. Jerry Charles a Haitian-American businessman based in the New York area and winner of a BPC grant last year to expand his water-processing plant CASTMI in the Northeast of Haiti, did not gloss over difficulties such as communication and the need for intensive staff-training. He concluded, however, that such challenges were worthwhile in order to run a Haitian business that serves a huge commercial need in Northeast Haiti and promotes socioeconomic development by providing safe and clean drinking water, in addition to providing employment to women and those disabled by the massive earthquake in 2010. His sentiments were echoed by other Haitian entrepreneurs who insisted that while Haiti’s business environment could be challenging and frustrating, the benefits were there for those who did their research.
Further speeches by USAID, the Department of State, HHTARG and PADF emphasized the importance of the diaspora, SMEs and direct investment. Audience members had the opportunity for Q & A’s with many of the speakers, and were given further information on how to apply for the LEAD Business Plan Competition (also available here).
Dates and locations for the next Road Shows will be announced shortly.