Jan
19
2012

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The earthquake in Haiti two years ago shined a spotlight on mobile fundraising, and boosted the efforts of entrepreneurial organizations looking to help Haiti through the recovery and rebuilding process. As part of the Case Foundation's continued effort to highlight and celebrate innovative nonprofits that leverage new technologies, we're sharing a guest blog post from Becky Straw of The Adventure Project exploring how one nonprofit is bringing clean cookstoves to Haiti, and features a few other options for “enterprise giving” that support ongoing relief efforts.

I am sure reading this title is exhausting for many people. Two years ago, half of all Americans came to Haiti’s aid — generously giving an astronomical $1.4 billion dollars. Yet, instead of progress, we hear reports of ineffectiveness and lack of transparency, and interviews where Haitian officials speak of being "overrun" by "an invasion" of NGOs that don’t coordinate together, and donations that cannot be tracked. It is enough to make anyone wary of ever giving again.

I’ve been to Haiti multiple times over the past two years, and once before the quake. What I don’t think the media has conveyed is the positive progress, and the all the potential bursting at the seams.

Photo by Esther HavensDon’t get me wrong. Haiti still needs help. Half a million people remain languishing in tents, and unemployment is estimated to hover around 70 percent. The answer is quite clear: what Haiti needs now is jobs.

For Dan Wolf, the founder of Lifeline Fund, a small nonprofit working in East Africa, the quake was his catalyst to open an office in Port au Prince. But instead of aid, he had a different motive — he wanted to start the country's first charcoal-efficient stove industry.

The leading cause of death of children under five years old isn’t AIDS, malaria, or unsafe water, it’s pneumonia — which is mostly attributed to indoor smoke produced from cooking over open fires. Inhaling the smoke is estimated to be the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes per day. The solution is a locally made, affordable stove.

Dan’s team set up shop in the bustling municipality of Delmas, and soon shipped in stoves from around the world. The goal was to find the perfect prototype; they settled on a version similar to one produced in Uganda, because it was the most effective at cooking rice and beans, the Haitian staple.

Five female vendors were elected to receive entrepreneurial training in running their own stove business, and earn $2.5 USD per sale — a great commission for a country where the majority live on $2 per day. The hope was each woman could sell two per day, bringing 2,000 stoves to market in the first year. But the women sold 2,000 in the first three months. “The women are calling us and placing orders for 100. Last week, one called and asked for 200. The masons are having a hard time keeping up,” laughed Christine Roy, Lifeline's dynamic country director.

The stoves drastically improve health, reduce black carbon emissions, and save six trees from being cut down and turned into charcoal each year. But those aren’t the main selling points. Everyone wants one because they save charcoal. With 98 percent of Haiti now deforested from logging, much of the charcoal is imported, and is expensive. Haiti’s poorest families are forced to spend 40 percent of their meager funds on cooking fuel. Each stove cuts charcoal usage in half. It’s a huge win for health and Haitian wallets.

Lifeline now employs 15 masons and seven female stove vendors, and is considered the first (if not the only) social enterprise producing a locally made, locally sold product. The nonprofit still relies on donations to offset the start-up costs, but the three-year goal is to make the organization a Haitian-run, viable business, spanning across the country to serve millions of people.

Categorically, Haiti has transitioned out of emergency relief and into development. Lifeline is just one example of the power of American donations fueling entrepreneurial ingenuity. Americans should continue to support Haiti, but with an enterprising mindset, because it is a country with limitless potential.

 

Enterprising Giving Guide for Haiti.

Here are four enterprising and effective ways you can help Haiti develop.

Sound Design.
Poor construction was a main driver behind the depth of devastation from the quake. Architecture for Humanity’s Rebuilding Center has been leading efforts to create sound and safer construction standards, rebuilding schools, clinics, and even distributing Rebuilding 101 manuals to local builders.

Trash into Treasure.
The wake of the earthquake left mounds of trash clogging canals and streets, a prime bredding ground for cholera. Executives Without Borders is building a successful social enterprise where residents can collect plastic bottles for cash. The local recyclying plant then turns the plastic into useable items, such as new shoes.

Get Cooking.
Helping to accelerate Lifeline Fund’s charcoal-efficient stove program, The Adventure Project (disclosure – the organization this author co-founded) has developed a creative fundraising strategy. For $20 dollars a donor can sponsor one stove, subsidizing the costs so it’s affordable to the poor. Donors are matched to a unique serial numbers of a stove, and receive updates when it’s built and sold.

Build Roads.
Transportation is crucial for commerce. Currently, it is estimated that only 5 percent of Haiti’s roads are in good condition. A few years ago, after delivering emergency aid by donkey, Concern Worldwide decided to buy a backhoe mower. Working on the remote island of La Gonave, Concern Worldwide will construct 30 km of road this year; enabling 80,000 people to bring goods to market.

 

Becky Straw is the co-founder of The Adventure Project, a nonprofit accelerating high-impact social enterprises around the world.

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