Haiti is officially part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem conversation.
The groundwork has been underway for the last several years, and Haiti is now ready to move to the next level. For example, I’ve written about a number of Haitian-related business ventures.
Just last month, I reported on Haiti’s Groupe Echo HackFest that took place in Port-au-Prince. As of this month, I have made a commitment to be the co-founder and help build the We Startup Haiti digital platform. The company will play a major role in building Haiti’s business ecosystem.
And yes, I’ll be the first to admit that the country is nowhere near Rwanda’s entrepreneurial leap, but that is slowly changing.
Rwanda has managed to defy the odds in spite of the vicious civil war in its past, to the point of getting the Harvard Business Review’s attention in a profile case study.
Since Haiti and Rwanda share some unique struggles and characteristics, I wanted to explore Rwanda’s method for success.
For one thing, both countries are close in population; Haiti has ten million people, whereas Rwanda has eleven million. Both have mountainous topography.
The name Rwanda often evokes painful images of the 1994 Hutu genocide against the Tutsi minority. Daniel Isenberg, author of The Big Idea: How to Start an Entrepreneurial Revolution, reminds us that “considering it was less than two decades ago almost one million people were slaughtered in Rwanda in 100 days, the country’s current standing in global business circles is stunning.”
As for Haiti’s brutal past, the country is often referred to as the land of dictatorships, political coups, and natural disasters.
Moreover, both nations identify as democratic states, and both are led by presidents who are elected by popular vote.
Haiti and Rwanda share French as an official language, and both populations are afro-homogeneous.
Lastly, both countries’ economies lie mostly in agriculture and tourism, though Rwanda has made technology a priority in its economic development plan.
Ben Fischberg, in his article, “Rwandan revival: the rise of tech entrepreneurship in Rwanda” writes, “President Kagame, Rwanda’s leader and the chief architect behind Rwanda’s revival, has made entrepreneurship, especially tech-related entrepreneurship, a priority.”
In the last few years, Haiti has made a concerted effort to grow its tourism industry. The country has fallen behind, however, in terms of boosting its agriculture and tech sectors, which have the potential to radically decrease poverty in the country.
Isenberg agrees, “Economic studies from around the globe consistently link entrepreneurship, particularly the fast-growth variety, with rapid job creation, GDP growth, and long-term productivity increases.”
If Rwanda can focus on these three sectors and find success, Haiti should strongly consider following the same strategy.
Isenberg reports, “Rwanda’s government took a strongly interventionist strategy in the post-genocide years, identifying three local industries (coffee, tea, and tourism) that had proven potential for development.”
Haiti has some of the same agricultural assets as Rwanda, and with the same potential to scale.
The Haitian government and the private sector should focus on building the environment and creating incentives for more entrepreneurs to start businesses in the coffee, cacao, sugarcane, and mango sectors.
And likewise, the government should focus on growing Haiti’s tech sector.
Isenberg points out, “Rwanda’s immediate priority was to provide gainful employment to millions of people. Its efforts led to about 72,000 new ventures, almost entirely consisting of two-and three-person operations, which in a decade tripled exports and reduced poverty by 25%.”
The plans must accompany concrete implementation. In addition, the government must work with the right players to bring these business ventures to compete internationally.
Isenberg continues, “… the government and its partners organized the institutions that would support Rwanda’s industries by, for example, training farmers to grow and package coffee to international standards and connecting them to overseas distribution channels.”
We know there are farmers in Haiti being trained, but the impact is minimal. If Haiti wants to turn the country around in ten years, it needs to make entrepreneurship a priority and a national effort.
Rwanda’s remarkable economic transformation was not accidental. President Kagame has worked to influence every part of Rwanda’s business development, including removing one key barrier.
Fischberg informs us that “Kagame has also pushed for developments like electronic business registration, which enabled companies to be started in as little as three days compared to the 30 days required in Kenya, the 32 days required in Uganda and the six days that starting a business in the USA takes.”
Though the number of months it used to take to register a business in Haiti has improved, I think three months is still too long.
Rwanda’s enormous economic development success in such a short time is worth taking note of.
If you are looking to become a stakeholder in building Haiti’s entrepreneurial and tech ecosystem, I’d like to share three ideas below for you to consider.
Idea #1: Connect the local village to the national village, and to the global village.
It took Rwanda working at the local and national “village” level to bring the country to the global village. Isenberg asserted, “A partnership among agricultural institutes in Rwanda, Michigan State University, and Texas A&M worked to connect local growers to U.S. and European specialty coffee buyers.”
I know Haiti has a mango distribution partnership with Whole Foods, but Haiti’s coffee, cacao, and sugarcane can generate millions in revenue for the country.
For instance, Isenberg discusses Kagame’s role in representing the farmers to foreign businesses.
Two notable events happened in 2006: Starbucks gave Rwanda’s Blue Bourbon brand of coffee beans its Black Apron award and introduced it in its stores, and on a visit to the U.S. Kagame met with Costco’s CEO, Jim Sinegal, to promote Rwandan coffee. Costco would later become one of the two biggest buyers of Rwandan coffee, purchasing an estimated 25% of the country’s premium crop.
Idea #2: Stakeholders at every level of Haitian society must participate.
Stakeholders at every level of Haitian society must get involved. In fact, the private sector alone, as well as the Haitian diaspora, can have tremendous influence on the country’s economic development.
Isenberg points out, “The government cannot do everything on its own: the private and nonprofit sectors too must shoulder some responsibility.”
This will mean all the actors must be aware that there is an entrepreneurial ecosystem movement taking place in the country.
Isenberg argues, “Corporate executives, family-business owners, universities, professional organizations, foundations, labor organizations, financiers, and of course, entrepreneurs themselves … will need to initiate and even finance entrepreneurship education, conferences, research, and policy advocacy.”
The good news is that Haiti already has most of these elements in place. And more Haitians are becoming part of the process.
Idea #3: The level of commitment and the right partnerships will speed up the country’s entrepreneurial success.
The people who are looking for a way to make a quick profit by any means necessary will fail. You have to be willing to commit the time and energy to build the ecosystem.
Many economic experts believe that it takes at least ten to twenty years to see the results of building a entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Strong leaders who can influence other key leaders will be a necessity.
Haiti’s entrepreneurial ecosystem will need strong leaders who understand how to build bridges and have the ability to mentor while bringing in investors.
And the country’s stakeholders do not need to wait for perfect conditions to build its ecosystem. In fact, I would argue that if you find an easy environment, most of the opportunities are already gone.
Isenberg insists, “Legal and regulatory reforms often take many years to push through, and entrepreneurship frequently occurs in their absence. In fact, numerous entrepreneurs have succeeded despite inhibiting legislation and bureaucracy and have gone on to use their wealth and status to push reform.”
Accomplishing the impossible with limited possibility
Rwanda has been able to accomplish what many initially thought was impossible. In his case study of Rwanda, Isenberg reiterates, “… in the latest ease of doing business ranking from the World Bank, Rwanda made a spectacular leap – from 143rd on the list to 67th.”
Haiti’s current ease of doing business ranking as of 2016 is 188. The question you should be asking—and finding solutions for—is what can you and the government do to work together and help transform Haiti’s economy?
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.