The groundwork for Haiti’s digital adaptation is really happening.
Last month, Kesner Pharel, owner and general director of the Group Croissance consulting firm, staged its sixth annual international finance summit. He made a smart move by adding technology to the conference. Thanks to Jean-Junior Joseph for bringing the story of Julian Bartoli to my attention from Haiti.
When finance and technology merge, it’s referred to as fintech. What’s fascinating about this marriage of the two sectors is that, apart from Europe, which is leading the market, the term is still unfamiliar to the average person and even to some of the tech-savvy people.
I decided to get a clue since many experts are predicting that this sector will become the next digital revolution. We need to grasp its meaning, because as the field expands, it will likely have an impact on our lives—on the emerging markets and how we move money across the globe, on how we save, and how we spend.
Jens Münch, in his article “What is fintech and why does it matter to all entrepreneurs?” defines the term as a “segment of the technology startup scene that is disrupting sectors such as mobile payments, money transfers, loans, fundraising and even asset management.” If you’ve been paying attention in the last few years, you can make the connections that Kickstarter and Square were startups in the fintech industry.
The fact that Mr. Pharel is making a concerted effort to adopt fintech in Haiti shows bold leadership. Like most countries in the Caribbean, Haiti has been lagging in every aspect of technology. The country has a few mobile payment companies, but not enough to lead the discussion.
Mr. Pharel sees the annual summit as an important step to provide the building blocks to grow both sectors. According to Pharel, “funding alone is not enough … innovation and education should be part of building the country’s infrastructures.” He has a goal to advance both finance and technology throughout the country in order to prepare Haiti’s youths to compete in the global society.
Pharel and his team at Group Croissance are paying attention and are creating the space to tap into a sector that has the potential to change Haiti’s economy.
Whether or not we want to admit it, technology will continue to evolve and change how we work and function in society. The fintech sector is emerging with a dynamism we need to take note of. Dominic Broom, Head of Treasury Services at BNY Mellon reminds us, “The wind of change in the payments world is gaining in strength as financial technology’s (“fintech”) potential to alter how, where and when payments are made—as well as who it is that facilitates them.”
Not only does Haiti need to adopt this technology, but it must also pay attention to how much money investors are giving to the sector. Josh Constine from TechCrunch emphasized that fintech has “been fueled by a massive uptick in venture investment in private fintech companies, which hit $13.8 billion in 2015 according to CB Insights, (Update: $19 billion including private equity, mutual funds, and angels). That’s up 58% from 2014 and over 1,000 percent since 2010.”
While Pharel is building the infrastructure to grow fintech in Haiti, he is also creating a space for Haiti’s future students and innovators to showcase their inventions. Haiti’s economy can accelerate if these fintech platforms take priority in the country.
This is how Julian Bartoli was discovered. The eight year-old was the youngest technology star at the conference. Pharel invited the College Catts Pressior, one of the few innovative schools in Haiti that places an emphasis on technology and science. You can watch a short video of the school with Julian and a few of his classmates.
Note: Video is in French and in Kreyòl.
The College Catts Pressior is unique in Haiti because of its radical philosophy and its deliberate focus on making sure the institution is educating students to better society. It challenges students to be independent thinkers and to see problems in their environment as opportunities, no matter how young they are.
I spoke with both Julian and his mother, Olivia Laporte, last week. At first, when you speak with Julian, he appears to be a typical eight year-old. He loves music; he plays the piano and the drums.
But as you begin to ask him about his favorite subject, something changes in his voice, and you learn about his love for technology, geography and science—all fields that reveal an intense curiosity about the world around us and how things work.
As part of a class project, Julian decided to make a robot using a piece of wood, strings, hard rubber tubes, and small sticks. The robot is able to pick up dirt and leaves. It is this robot that got him selected as the youngest from his school to present at the summit.
He credits his mother for helping him use the Internet to do research. He said he reads a lot about robotics online. Likewise, he told me how he loves his teachers, and Mr. Guy Philippe Etienne for encouraging him.
It was impressive to learn that building a garden robot was important for Julian, as young as he is. When asked why he wanted to build a garden robot, he shared that he wanted to build something that would help gardeners pick up dirt. To say he is observant is an understatement. The eight year-old already knows how to use Windows and a few graphic programs —mind you, we’re talking Haiti.
His mother tells me that he’s always been extremely curious for a boy his age. From the time he could speak, he had lots of questions and was often building something.
I asked Laporte, when did she know that she was raising a little innovator? She laughed and gave part of the credit to some of the early choices she made in supporting Julian.
She is also incredibly grateful to the College Catts Pressior school for the work they do with the students and the way the faculty works with parents to ensure their children succeed. For example, Laporte told me that before a school project is introduced, the school first provides a series of workshops for the parents in order to support their children.
I asked Julian, what is his dream for when he grows up? Already he is thinking as a young entrepreneur. He said, “My dream is to become a robot entrepreneur. I want to build more when I grow up so I can sell them. After that, I want to use robots to help develop Haiti.”
His mom supports him by participating in and learning about whatever he is doing. Olivia Laporte is also in the information technology field.
Julian is one of the millions of Haitian children who are waiting for these kinds of opportunities to show their skills and potential to find solutions to Haiti’s problems. Here’s one success story that we can find the means to support in one way or another.
Investing in more students like Julian Bartoli and adopting fintech in Haiti are compelling—imagine what that investment will help the country accomplish in the next five to ten years.
Your turn: Do you think this fintech adoption in Haiti is a good idea? What other tech event(s) do you think Haiti needs? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comments section below.
About the author: Daniella Bien-Aime is the founder of the Bien-Aime Post, a digital media platform that focuses on business, leadership, education, and social media within the context of Haiti and its diaspora. Follow her on Twitter @dbienaime.