When most people think of Haiti, innovation does not come to mind.Yet, the country is ripe for innovation because of the need to rebuild from the ground.
Apple is a leader in innovation. It is common knowledge that Apple was on the brink of collapse, but bounced back to become a respected leader in the world of business and innovation. Likewise, Haiti needs to look to Apple for inspiration on how to rise from the ashes of collapse, and restore its name as “The Pearl of the Caribbean”.
Haiti now, like Apple did in the past, has a future that seems bleak, but has the potential to become a leader. In the Economist article (2007) “Lessons from Apple,” it stated, “Some of the power of its brand comes from the extraordinary story of a computer company rescued from near-collapse by its founder, Steve Jobs.” (Pg 11). Similarly, Haiti has often been defined as a country near collapse, poorest in the Western Hemisphere, and a “basket case.” The first two can be argued to be true, but the latter is unfair. After all, how can a country so rich in natural resources, and is one of the top three largest populations in the Caribbean be referred to as a basket case? Haiti has more potential than some of the established economies in the region.
Haitian business leaders and educators can learn from Steve Jobs’ style of effective leadership and the creative space he nurtured at Apple. Haiti must be seen as an organization that needs to be turned around. Thus, whenever a stakeholder thinks about any project to develop Haiti, innovation must be at its core. Hence, three aspects must be considered: (1) turning the Haitian people’s creativity into profitability, (2) teaching entrepreneurship in Haiti, and (3) developing network innovation.
Turning Existing Creativity into Profitability
The media often reminds anyone willing to listen that most people in Haiti live on $2.00 per day. There might be some truth to that statistic, but we must process that in a meaningful way. For instance, unless someone has actually lived on $2.00 a day, had family members living on that wage, or worked with that population and observed their survival skills on a day-to-day basis, then, the story is misleading. However, from a cultural perspective, it takes an incredible amount of creativity to make $2.00 feed a family. For example, family members tend to pool their money or resources to start a roadside “Fritai” food business, among other small businesses. Haiti is known for that type of economic creativity, which is the basis of its informal economy.
Andres Marroquin, in his article “Entrepreneurship and Economic Development in Jeremie, Haiti” (2012) asserted, “Most of the economic activity in Haiti is informal – it is not regulated and it is not included in the national statistics.” Haitians interested in the progress and development of Haiti should focus on bringing the people in the informal economy into the formal economy where they can become part of the business process, and where they can grow. This is the fear of some of the elite, but it must be done.
One of the strategies that the International Community uses to keep Haiti dependent and poor is “aid giving.” The Haitian diaspora can change how Haiti is rebuilt by changing the way that Haitian émigrés financially support their friends and families back home. For example, instead of sending one hundred percent of the money home to take care of the family monthly, why not take a small percentage of that amount to help a family start a business? According to Marroquin (2012), “Entrepreneurship is the main driver of economic growth. Innovation and creativity are its main features.” Marroquin adds, “Economic historians like T.S. Ashton (1964) and Joel Mokyr (2004) have examined the transformation from poverty to riches during and after the industrial revolution, and emphasize the causal effect of invention on economic growth.” For that reason, it is in the best interest of Haiti to build more startups, cultivate leaders, and focus on teaching entrepreneurship.
Steve Jobs’ strategy of using network innovation to make Apple a leader must be considered when working on behalf of Haiti. “Apple is, in short, an orchestrator and integrator of technologies, unafraid to bring ideas from outside but always adding its own twists” (2007). Equally, Haitian business leaders should innovate like Apple did in order to influence Haiti’s economic development. As the Economist article claims, “Making network innovation work involves cultivating contacts with startups and academic researchers, constantly scouting for new ideas” (2007). By scouting ideas, innovation will emerge. This was the outcome of scouting new ideas from Duquesne Fernard from D&E Green Enterprises, a Haitian company that produces ecological cooking stoves that was awarded the 2013 Small Island Developing States Award in Great Britain. Readers interested in some business ideas that can transform Haiti should Google the McKinsey Global Institute report: Disruptive Technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy.
Haiti’s case for innovation has already been established not only because the country needs to be built from the ground-up, because innovation has historically proven to be central to economic growth. The challenge for Haitian leaders will be to work on collaborating with one another in order to drive the change they wish to see in Haiti.
Your turn for the post question…
What else do you think can be done to drive the level of innovation in Haiti? I’d love to hear from you. Tell me in the comment section below.
About the Author: Daniella Bien-Aime is a Haitian-American blogger, an adult learning and leadership development specialist, teacher, trainer and social media enthusiast. Passionate about Haiti, she is a graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University with a Master’s in Adult Learning and Leadership. You can follow her blog at www.daniellabien-aime.com or on Twitter @dbienaime.