Student Spotlight: The One-Room Office that Just Might Save Haiti

39e5668Justin Jones is a MBA Candidate Class of 2016 with a consulting concentration. He is a Kenneth R. Meyer Fellow, SVP of Committees for the MBA Association, and is a member of the Consulting Club, Entrepreneurship Club, and Net Impact Club. He’s participated in international and public-sector engagements, as well as having a continued presence in volunteer and humanitarian projects.

Do you want to play a part in the project that will help Haiti emerge into a vibrant economy?

That wasn’t exactly the way my invitation had been phrased, but it might as well have been.

I was speaking with a few second-year MBA students about carrying on a project with EGI Haiti, and I didn’t take much convincing. The project partnered Notre Dame MBA candidates with a non-profit organization providing training and other tools to budding Haitian entrepreneurs.

EGI Graphic Test 2

EGI Haiti’s goal is to “find the most promising Haitian entrepreneurs, train them and connect them to top investors and businesspeople who serve as mentors. Together with the entrepreneurs and mentors [they] create formal small businesses and find 1st level funding.”  Notre Dame now has multiple MBA students working with EGI as interns, and Notre Dame MBA Class of 2015 graduate Robby Meara’s experience was recently featured on their website as well.

BlogPic1A few busy months after our initial conversation, I was touching down in Port-au-Prince to spend a week learning about the Haitian business environment and several entrepreneurs hoping to take advantage of it. I had learned enough about EGI to respect their work and was looking forward to diving in, but I couldn’t help wondering if perhaps MBAs–and the EGI staff–could have found a project with bigger returns. There were a few things I would quickly learn.

The last few decades have seen increasing numbers f business approaches applied to solving problems of poverty, and the projects have been varied. Prime among them are those building Micro-, Small-, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs), and these have met with varying success. A 2008 study of many such projects found micro-organizations that grow into small businesses, or beyond, are extremely rare, but those that do become centers of profit and employment. The reasons these projects fail can be grouped into three broad categories:

  • Lack of access to capital.Financing projects and programs are being mobilized increasingly quickly to address this issue–globally and in Haiti.
  • Lack of the necessary business and market infrastructure. While Haiti certainly has room for growth in this area, there is a basic infrastructure readily available to those who can use it.
  • Lack of education in the required skills.Many people can run a business; few can make one thrive. Particularly high among the attributes of managers who grow micro-enterprises into larger business is entrepreneurial ability. This is where EGI had dug in to do the long, hard work of finding and honing potential to make a difference.

After a week of visiting with successful business owners, including EGI alumni, and some coaching of the rising stars, my perspective had shifted. I could sense the potential impact a handful of successful entrepreneurs could have on such a troubled economy. Upon my return, I dug further into the literature and quickly discovered the data supporting my hunch, including the following key points:

  • Entrepreneurship training dramatically increases the likelihood that a person will make the attempt to start a business and, appropriately, that the business will succeed.
  • Entrepreneurship training is particularly effective as a part of (or in conjunction with) university education.
  • Entrepreneurs in emerging economies have more potential for entrepreneurial success than those in developed countries.
  • Entrepreneurship training has a demonstrably positive impact on a developing economy, whether or not those receiving the training actually start their own businesses.
  • Developing countries receiving significant outside aid often fail to establish sufficient knowledge-sharing programs.

BlogPic3Haiti, a country in which fewer than 30% of the population make it to high school and over 80% of college graduates live abroad, is practically a case study for what entrepreneurial training can do. Regardless of what role I may personally be able to play in such a rewarding venture, I’m honored to have been given a window to see what can happen through some basic training and feel confident we will all see its benefits in time.

Have you seen ways that Entrepreneurship training has radically helped a small business? Let us know what you think in the comments below! 

2 responses to “Student Spotlight: The One-Room Office that Just Might Save Haiti

  1. Could this title be reworded to avoid Western “savior complex” rhetoric? “Save Haiti” seems a bit demeaning.

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    • Brittany, thanks for the catch and call out. I probably didn’t make it clear enough in the post, but one of the reasons I love what EGI is doing is that it is rooted in Haitians building on the opportunities they see in and for their nation. The two desks in that one-room office both belong to Haitian nationals. Most of the coaching, mentorship, and training is provided by Haitian business leaders, and they’re constantly building that network.

      And the alumni feel a deep sense of community pride. One of the things I was most struck with during our interviews was how committed the graduates were to giving back to their neighborhoods, empowering their employees, and mentoring young entrepreneurs, even at substantial personal cost. EGI is definitely an organization in which Haitians see the potential around them and are working to activate it. Our role, such as it is, is truly supporting and learning as successful Haitian business leaders help others follow in their footsteps. EGI is not about outsiders trying to change Haiti–which is exactly why I’m so excited about what it will accomplish.

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