Logging onto Facebook can feel like a religious experience. You do it every day, or for some, every week, and you occasionally find some significance.
Do you often wonder what is significant?
What if we were to change the occasional into everyday significance?
It turns out that using Facebook with a purpose and with consistency has the potential to change Haiti’s business ecosystem, from the occasional to everyday significance, by focusing on one small-business owner at a time.
Allow me to tell you how one man’s life changed over the spring as a result of a Facebook connection.
Five years ago, a Haitian friend who grew up with me in the U.S. moved back to Haiti permanently with her husband to build a school in Jacmel.
She moved to her father’s town to work with the community and to have an impact, but she had no idea that our connection on Facebook would change the life of one aspiring Haitian entrepreneur.
It is in that community of Jacmel where she lives that we meet a young carpenter named Joanes Orelien. Over three years ago, Joanes completed a vocational training program in Haiti. He had a reputation as a man of integrity and an excellent carpenter. He gained side jobs simply based on the quality of his work in spite of his limited resources.
Joanes knew his craft and had the desire to turn the skill into a business. The problem was, he had only two tools to work with, and he knew the only way to expand was to buy more tools. However, he did not have the money.
The assistant director of my college friend’s school, with whom I am also friends with on Facebook, decided to reach out to her network to ask if anyone had any used tools they could afford to donate. Joanes was looking only for used tools, because he knew they were expensive.
As usual, I logged on that day and saw her request for the tools. It took less than two minutes to copy the message and add my own short note to my network, asking if anyone had used tools they could donate to a carpenter.
The power of a Facebook group connection
In less than 24 hours, a Facebook friend named Monika “Kika” Lévy, who has been following my work on Haiti for several months, sent me a private message, expressing her desire to invest in the young man.
We started chatting about my relationship with my college friend and about her school. I sent Monika more information on the school and community.
While we were talking, Monika (I had to plead with to use her name when I write about her act of generosity, and she agreed), got online and ordered some of the tools on the list from my Facebook page. I assured her during our conversation that if I received the tools, I would make sure they got to Haiti.
Having a dependable Facebook network
True to Monika’s word, within three days, I received a big box from Lowes. The total value was close to $400.00. I was shocked and humbled, and then I felt a moment of awe. I asked myself, how many of these men and women in Haiti need that kind of direct investment?
The shipment arrived safe and sound in Haiti
The merchandise arrived in Jacmel in late July. While I was there in August, I decided to visit my college friend and also see for myself how Joanes was making use of his new tools. I think subconsciously, I wanted to bring the story to Monika and share with her the impact of her generosity through a mere Facebook connection.
Facebook is a simple and yet powerful connector
Facebook has opened the door and created a direct economic opportunity for Joanes. The question we should be asking is, how can we leverage these kinds of connections for other Haitians to move the country forward?
A few lessons from this story
Expand your mind to consider how you’re using Facebook. Here is one lesson I learned from my experience with Facebook and the young Haitian carpenter: There are at least a million men and women in Haiti with various skill sets and a desire to stay in the country to make a living, feed their families, and create their own economic mobility.
What if we —I mean, the Haitian diaspora and socially conscious small investors—decided to look for them and invest directly in them? How would Haiti change in six months? One year? Think of five years?
What’s unique about Joanes’ story is that he was not looking for money. He was looking for a few tools that would allow him to realize his dream and take his passion to the next level. It’s important we listen to the needs of Haitians.
Some small-business owners do need financial investments in order to grow a business, but others just need equipment. Still others need an earnest ear to bounce ideas off, while others need someone to write about their stories and let the world—particularly the Haitian diaspora—know what they have to offer.
Another lesson that I learned: As Joanes grows his carpentry business, he will not need aid from the USAID or any NGO. This is crucial to understand, because these organizations in Haiti are not there for the interest of Haitians.
Those of us who care and are concerned about Haiti should focus on investing in the people directly so Haiti can become great again. It is better from a long long-term perspective to invest in more men and women like Joanes Orelien
It was a privilege to meet and interview Joanes and hear his story. And it’s true. He lives up to his reputation in the community—a man of integrity, dignity, and skill. You can hear the interview below. (For my English-speaking readers, please note that the interview is in Haitian Kreyòl.) This post is my way of including you in the actual story.
At the beginning of this post, I asked you if Facebook could be a link to building Haiti’s business ecosystem. My personal response is yes. What do you think?
What about you? What do you think? Have you come across stories like Joanes’? Share them with me below in the comments section.
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.