Creating Change in Haiti through Tech and ET&A
Last spring, I was in full semester swing, wrapping up my last final exams and projects for my Babson MBA degree. I was eight months into my role as Assistant Director of The Schlesinger Fund for Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship (GHE). For my nonprofit organization, CHES, I was organizing a special event in Boston while also preparing for an upcoming trip to Haiti to work with some of the nation’s most vulnerable people still recovering from Hurricane Matthew.
Just when I thought my plate was full enough, one of the organizers of the first annual Haiti Tech Summit invited me to speak on a panel about our organization’s work as it relates to tech. How could I say no? I was happy to participate in what I knew would be an epic event for Haiti.
And that it was.
The mission of the Haiti Tech Summit is not unlike The Lewis Institute’s: to use entrepreneurship to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges in innovation and sustainability.
Over the course of two days, I soaked in a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, good ideas, and good energy from the participants who hailed from all over the world. In the words of one of my team members, “it felt like a mini UN.” I engaged in rich dialogue after rich dialogue. The panels were brimming with novel and different perspectives on innovation, technology, and developing entrepreneurial ecosystems. At times, I needed to step away to process and ruminate on all of the ideas and conversations I had had.
I was deeply struck by renowned venture capitalist Ben Horowitz’s address on culture. He took an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach in his speech, reminding us Haitians that we can draw upon examples of successful revolutions within our own history to inspire and change the Haiti we want to see. Horowitz dissected the things that Toussaint Louverture, Haiti’s great revolutionist, did to create a culture that ultimately led to the successful slave revolution that liberated Haiti from the colonial rule of France in 1804. Louverture did four key things:
- kept what worked,
- created shocking new rules,
- incorporated other cultures,
- made decisions that prioritized the new culture in the making.
Changemaking at its finest.
I was also so proud to see other Babson community members contributing to this successful event. They were living out the College mission of creating social and economic value right before my eyes. To me, there is no better place than Haiti to work the Babson Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® (ET&A™) muscles.
Tech, Entrepreneurship, and Poverty
I was honored to share my own experiences and insights at the Summit. As a Haitian-American who lived in rural Haiti for many years, I realized that to truly create long-lasting change in these impoverished communities, people need jobs more than charity. More than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs, according to World Fact Book. This year marks ten years since my CHES team has been tackling poverty in Haiti by educating, funding, and mentoring entrepreneurs in rural areas to help them thrive.
On the Summit’s “Education for Innovation” panel, I talked about the immense capability gaps that exist within the Haitian population and the opportunities that exist to innovate in low-tech ways. Technology has played a major role in enabling my organization to survive on a shoestring budget and still deliver value in Haiti. Technology plays an increasingly greater role in the way we serve Haiti’s rural enterprises. We can leverage both low- and high-tech tools and methodologies to disseminate knowledge across the country and lift over 10 million Haitians out of poverty.
As we well know at Babson, entrepreneurial thought requires action. I am simply thrilled by the powerful new Haitian-led initiatives sparked since the Haiti Tech Summit in just one year, including:
- The Haitian government launched Alpha Haiti, the country’s first tech incubator, on June 4.
- Airbnb signed a comprehensive agreement with the Haitian Ministry of Tourism and are now marketing stays in Haiti.
- Powered by Google Developers Launchpad, the Haiti Start accelerator bootcamp ran this past April, designed to help early stage startups preparing their products and services for market introduction.
- The dynamic Daphnee Charles has been leading the charge bringing the local entrepreneurs together by heading up the Google-powered Startup Grind chapter in Port-au-Prince
- Gilles Sassine, a visionary young man, launched ht a platform for local Haitian and Haitian Diaspora-led programs where job and funding opportunities can be found.
- I am particularly proud of another fellow brother devoted to a better Haiti, Marc Alain Boulcicault, who launched Banj—Haiti’s very first co-working space for tech entrepreneurs.
I’m excited to attend the Summit again this year with GHE faculty director, Professor Wiljeana Glover, who will bring the Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship lens to the discourse as a speaker on the Future of Food, Agriculture, and Public Health panel. According to a Haitian healthcare leader working on the ground, 80–96% of Haitians are uninsured and/or unable to afford healthcare services. I witnessed firsthand overcrowded hospital grounds. Haiti’s healthcare system is fraught with challenges that a balanced portfolio of technical innovations and an entrepreneurial mindset can help address. Through our GHE research, we can share many great case studies of low-resource, settings-appropriate innovations that resulted in drastic benefits to patients and healthcare systems.
As our partner, Carmella Kletjian, recently said, “We need more than the old way of parachuting in and then leaving. It isn’t sustainable. We need to build an ecosystem. Having surgery, running hospitals—it’s a business. We need to teach others how to do it.”
Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem is what we’re doing here at GHE. It’s what my CHES team activates when training entrepreneurs in rural areas. And it’s happening through connections and partnerships made possible through events like Haiti Tech Summit.
I cannot wait to join my fellow Haitian believers, changemakers, and supporters at what I know will be another catalyzing event!