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 The mission of the "Your Mark on the World Center" is to solve the world's biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.
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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Monthly Archives: November 2015

Three Social Entrepreneurs Driving Growth And Change In Haiti

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

This is the fourth in a series of articles from Haiti

Yesterday, I met not one but three remarkable social entrepreneurs here in Haiti. The first is a young woman who is leading a local effort to help other entrepreneurs in Haiti, the second a young man who now runs the larges plastic recycling business and the last, a returned political exile from the Duvalier era that now runs a promising aquaponics business off of his roof!

Isabelle Clerie, just 28 years old, returned from the U.S. a few years ago after finishing a masters degree in the U.S. and now runs the Haitian operations of EGI, an entrepreneurial support organization that rejects the labels incubator and accelerator, but if you want to think of EGI that way, I can’t stop you.

EGI is an acronym for Entrepreneurship, Growth and Innovation. The organization was founded by Steven Keppel in 2005; it grew out of the work of Deacon Patrick Moynihan at the Louverture Cleary School, as did the subject of yesterday’s post, HELP.

Isabelle Clerie, Country Director, EGI. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Isabelle Clerie, Country Director, EGI. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

The goal of the organization is to foster entrepreneurs, including especially young ones, within the formal sector of the economy. Board member Patrick Brun explains that something on the order of 30 percent of the Haitian economy takes place in the informal sector, a virtually unregulated and untaxed gray market dominated by solopreneurs. EGI wants to move more people into the formal economy where they can access resources to growth their businesses to scale.

EGI has a lawyer who offers pro bono formation advice, services and mentoring to the entrepreneurs in the program to help ensure that they take advantage of the doors that open in the formal economy, including improved access to capital.

To help young entrepreneurs get over their fear of banking, they introduce them to bankers. A common misconception in Haiti is that a bank can send you to jail for nonpayment. The loan sharks that prey on entrepreneurs in the informal sector can’t send you to jail either—but that isn’t what entrepreneurs who borrow from them should be worried about, says Robert Laforest, the attorney who sits on the EGI board and mentors the entrepreneurs.

There are a few promising entrepreneurs in the EGI fold, including Felder Jean Paul, a resourceful young entrepreneur who is building a sandal business. Presented with a $5,000 prize in 2014 by EGI, he opened a store where he could sell his handmade wares. He continues to struggle with raw material supplies, but opened a barber shop in his store where he braids hair to keep cash flow up.

About 50 entrepreneurs have now been through the EGI program, which includes a formal accounting module to help entrepreneurs master basic financial concepts and learn to track sales and profits. They also run a boot camp with support from MBA students at the University of Notre Dame. A group comes down to Haiti each year to provide intensive training.

EGI is committed to building a better Haiti one entrepreneur at a time.

The second social entrepreneur I met yesterday, Edouard Carrie, is the founder and CEO of Environmental Cleaning Services, SA (ECSSA, pronounced ecksa) the largest plastic recycling firm in Haiti. Founded in response to the earthquake, Carrie, now 28, wanted to do something that would help in the recovery. And help it has. As I traveled around the city, I noted the conspicuous lack of plastic garbage in the streets of Port-au-Prince—something that is nearly ubiquitous in the developing world.

Edouard Carrie, CEO of ECSSA, collects virtually all of the plastic bottles used in Haiti. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Edouard Carrie, CEO of ECSSA, collects virtually all of the plastic bottles used in Haiti. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

The business started as an entry in a business plan competition while attending the University of Tampa; he won the contest and prize money to help him launch. I did an internship with USA Hauling and Recycling, prosperous recycling business in Florida. Owner Jerry Antonacci made a deal with Carrie to sell him a critical piece of used equipment at a bargain price with no cash down and only a promise to pay for the equipment when he could. Carrie boasts that he paid for it long ago.

ECSSA generates over $3 million in revenue annually, though that is down from its peak. Lower oil prices have dropped the value of recycled plastic. Carrie is looking for ways to boost his razor-thin margins, noting jealously that some recyclers in the U.S. still get paid to collect recycling and then get to sell the material, while he pays to collect it, leaving ECSSA with only one volatile revenue stream.

Nonetheless, Carrie is proud of the people that earn a living from his work. Not only does he have 43 current employees, he also has 75 “go getters” on contract who help him arrange the collection of plastic from nearly all of Haiti. He calculates that between 9,000 and 20,000 people are earning at least the country’s minimum wage collecting plastic for ECSSA. His impact on Haiti is huge.

The future, however, is uncertain. If he can’t find a way to improve margins, the business may struggle. He’s looking at using lower grade plastics, some of which he doesn’t even buy today, for the production of artificial wood. The plastic is processed with wood chips to create boards that work much like real wood for construction purposes.

He gets excited thinking of the additional social benefits. Haiti’s biggest environmental problem is deforestation and is thrilled to consider the impact of reducing the demand for real wood in Haiti by supplying the new product. He also notes with enthusiasm that he could start buying one the last, pesky types of plastic. The bane of country are the single serving water sachets sold for a few cents that are strewn about the cities and countryside alike. This low grade plastic could be used in the wood, allowing him to buy it from collectors for the first time.

And the margins have the potential to add real power to the income statement as well.

The last entrepreneur of the day was certainly different from the rest. Past 70, Francois Benoit was exiled by Papa Doc Duvalier in 1963 when he, a competitive marksman, was accused of attempting to kidnap Duvalier’s children. He spent about 25 years in exile. When he returned, he became Haiti’s ambassador to the United States. In the early 90′s, Benoit also launched Haiti’s first internet provider. He set that aside, however, when he was called upon to serve as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

For the past 25 years, Benoit has been working to create a model for aquaponics that would work at scale in Haiti. He wants to help restore Haiti’s agricultural exports, slow the rural to urban migration and feed more Haitians better food.

He started with a small table-top garden. He quickly graduated to the roof of his beautiful home in the foothills of Port-au-Prince, where he grows mostly lettuce. He loves growing lettuce because it is ready for harvest so quickly using his model. He can have it ready for the table in just six weeks from a seed.

It takes four months to get the first tomato from one of his vines, but he can keep the vine producing for 11 months and ultimately get more than 100 pounds of tomatoes from each plant, which he grows in a greenhouse in the back yard of his home. From his admittedly large residential property he is generating about 300,000 of annual revenue from his production.

Francois Benoit, former Ambassador to the United States, ascends to his rooftop farm. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Francois Benoit, former Ambassador to the United States, ascends to his rooftop farm. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

He’s now scaling further, having acquired land where he has built one large greenhouse and has space for three more.

His approach is remarkably technical. He has developed methods for using remarkably little water. He gets 100 percent of his water from collecting rain. He has his own water treatment system that allows him to purify the water and then add just the right mix of chemical nutrients. He controls pests without pesticides and is looking to add bumblebees to pollinate the tomatoes–he’s been hiring a person to pollinate them using an electric toothbrush.

On his new property, he’s planning to build a school where he can train other people to do what he does. He’s hoping to create a financing mechanism that would allow rural small-hold farmers to use his technology, thus allowing them to launch profitable farms.

He hopes to create a business that would handle all of the marketing for the farmers so that he could give the small farmers a steady flow of orders so that everything they plant will have a guaranteed market. Using his 25 years of growing in Haiti, he has an incredible repository of data that will allow him to predict exactly when products are ready for harvest and delivery.

At scale, he not only sees Haiti become self-reliant but becoming a significant exporter of lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, strawberries and micro greens.

After visiting with these three remarkable entrepreneurs, I was filled with hope for the future of Haiti. Entrepreneurs hold the keys to its prosperity!

Recap Of My Week In Haiti: In a Word, Amazing

My week in Haiti is coming to an end, tomorrow I hope to share a few concluding thoughts here at Tonight, let me review quickly some of what we’ve covered this week.

On Monday, I visited the Cap Haitien on the northern coast of Haiti, giving me some literal perspective on the country as I flew over the largely deforested countryside. Once there, I visited with the folks at Carbon Roots who now have the largest charcoal production in Haiti (a big deal since most Haitians use charcoal to cook) using an eco-friendly process using agricultural waste. Read my Forbes piece here.

Charcoal production at Carbon Roots. (Note that the material being burned to produce charcoal would be burned in any event.) Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Charcoal production at Carbon Roots. (Note that the material being burned to produce charcoal would be burned in any event.) Photo by Devin Thorpe.

On Tuesday, I spent the day with a group of Rotarians who were working to help young entrepreneurs here in Haiti. It was exciting to see the impact that the young organizers of the events had and how it all started at a young Rotarian/Rotoractor conference in Washington, DC–just what you’d hope would be happening at an international gathering of service-minded young leaders. Read my Forbes piece here.

Peterson Figaro, Smiff Lormier and Napoleon Rodolpho. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Peterson Figaro, Smiff Lormier and Napoleon Rodolpho. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

On Wednesday, I spent the day at HELP, an organization that provides amazing scholarships to underprivileged and overqualified college applicants in Haiti. The program is training a generation of leaders who will lead Haiti into a brighter future. Read my Forbes piece here.

Classroom addition at the HELP center. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Classroom addition at the HELP center. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

On Thursday, I spent the day with Isabelle Clerie who lead EGI, a venture accelerator that rejects that moniker but does the work anyway. She also introduced me to a couple of other amazing social entrepreneurs, Edouard Carrie and Fracois Benoit, the Haitian king of plastic recycling and the former ambassador to the U.S., respectively. The latter also has a farm on the roof of his house. Really. Read my Forbes piece here.

Francois Benoit, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Francois Benoit, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Today, I spent the day with Owen Robinson, the founder of Haiti Cardiac Alliance. He just flat out saves lives. He’s working to find every child in Haiti that needs heart surgery and to then make sure that every single one gets that surgery. With help from Rotary’s Gift of Life Foundation, I saw them in action today. It was difficult not to weep from joy or sadness at almost every turn. I’ll post my report on Forbes tomorrow if all goes well.

Medical team screens a child for a heart condition and possible surgery. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Medical team screens a child for a heart condition and possible surgery. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Let’s do some good!


Report From Haiti: Change Enough Lives And You May Change A Country

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

This is the third in a series of articles from Haiti.

Wilkins Jeangilles was raised in Port-au-Prince by parents who didn’t have the luxury of feeding him every morning before school. That didn’t stop Jeangilles from finishing at the top of his high school class. College, as it is for most Haitians, regardless of their talent and intellect, was virtually out of the question for Jeangilles. Even if he had started, he would likely have been like the majority of Haitians who start at one of the local universities but never graduate. Then along came an organization called HELP.

“With HELP, it was like I was studying in another country with computers, internet, books—everything!”

After graduation, he went to work as the finance officer for Trocaire, an Irish NGO here in the “Republic of NGOs.” About a year later, HELP itself came calling. Having lost their finance director, they asked him to apply for the position. Despite knowing him well, HELP put him through a thorough screening process.

Wilkins Jeangilles, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Deputy Country Director, Amber Walsh, says Wilkins is among the very best students to ever complete the program.

Jeangilles, who confidently describes himself as “humble,” believes he’d have entered and finished college even without the HELP scholarship. HELP provides housing, tuition, books, and a cash stipend for food and incidentals make sure the students can focus on learning. HELP also provides supplemental curricula in leadership, English and computer literacy. While the question of whether he’d have entered and finished college without HELP is actually impossible to answer, the odds are clear. With only 1 percent of high school students entering college and only a fraction of those graduating, it is highly unlikely that Jeangilles would be where he is today without HELP.

In the 1990s, Garry Delice, the Country Director for HELP, was the headmaster at the Louverture Cleary School, a remarkable Catholic boarding school for underprivileged kids that will figure in tomorrow’s report from Haiti, as well, when the founding story for HELP begins.

HELP Founder, Conor Bohan, was working as a volunteer instructor there at the school, when one of the most remarkable students, Isemonde Joseph, famously asked Bohan for about $30 so she could apply to secretarial school. He enquired to learn if that was really what she wanted, only to learn that she really wanted to go to medical school but didn’t have the money. Bohan raised the money to help her cover the relatively modest school fees.

Amber Walsh and Garry Delice. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Amber Walsh and Garry Delice. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Delice says he remembers Joseph well. She was a natural leader. He met her in 1993, a few years before she was to graduate and ask Bohan for help. She came to Delice, he says, complaining about the quality of the food at the school, which he agrees was substandard. She organized all of the students to individually approach the cook to ask for better food. It worked, he says, and he never forgot her leadership.

At the same time Jospeh approached Bohan, Delice was approached by another student with a similar request. Delice says he and Bohan split the responsibilities. From that early generosity, Bohan built HELP. He lived and worked in Haiti running the nonprofit until about 2008, when he returned to live in the states and focus on fundraising there. Delice joined full time in 2006, giving Bohan the ability to return.

Jeangilles, the young HELP graduate and HELP finance manager, success story isn’t just prospering. He’s recently married, noting that because of his Christian faith, “we didn’t even kiss before getting married.” He credits his self-discipline for his success, explaining that everyone in his high school was focused on sex and that he was focused on his studies instead. This year, he father passed away. He now supports his mother and younger siblings. HELP’s impact is far reaching.

Snaicah Sainval, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Snaicah Sainval, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Snaicah Sainval, a current student in the HELP program working on a degree in agronomy at Quisqueya University who is shy and reserved, is the first in her family to go to college; her parents didn’t graduate from high school. She is unequivocal; without HELP, she would not be in college, there simply wouldn’t be money.

She appreciated the selection process. A group of students about two- or three-fold the size of those to be admitted into the program, are invited to “orientation.” A misnomer, really, the three-week summer camp is focused on selection over orientation. The residential program is designed to see which students have the temperament for success in the program.

In a foreshadowing of their first year experience, students at the orientation are required to do some community service, always include some street cleaning. Because cleaning streets is relegated customarily to the least educated in Haiti it is a key test of wills to see who will enthusiastically pick up a broom and go to work at the menial task in order to gain admission to college that would normally mean never having to do that again. During orientation, the staff and students are monitoring the candidates to see which are ready for the HELP program.

During the first year of the program, students like Sainval, are required to organize a year-long service learning project. Typically these require some sort of physical work, like cleaning the streets. The goal however, is not just to develop a community spirit, but to give the students an opportunity manage and plan resources in an easy to understand context. Most have never had the opportunity to develop real leadership skills before.

Walsh, a Yale MBA who says she believe she is the only Yale MBA in Haiti, is focused on impact measurement, a discipline she appears to have brought to the organization. They’ve just begun a careful study comparing life and career outcomes for HELP graduates and similarly situated—bright, capable and underprivileged—high school graduates to see how the cohorts compare.

She notes that their graduates have near 100 percent employment, among those not currently pursuing graduate education. The average income is about $15,000 per year, more than seven times the $2,000 average income for high school graduates. Of the 30 HELP employees, 15 percent are HELP graduates.

Haiti’s brain drain is among the worst in the world, with most college graduates leaving the country; only 16 percent stay in Haiti. Walsh boasts that a remarkable 86 percent of HELP program graduates are in Haiti today; most of those who are not are studying abroad and intend to return.

The success of the program is clearly tied to the screening process. This year, they received 291 applications for 25 spots. The cut the field in half looking only at grades and national test scores. The essays from the balance became the primary criteria for determining which applications would be invited to the three-week orientation that Sainval so enjoyed. This gives them an opportunity to get to know the most well qualified applicants well, including who has family resources that would allow them to go to college without HELP’s scholarship.

Classroom addition at the HELP center. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Classroom addition at the HELP center. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Delice, still an instructor at heart, described his focus on leadership. Standing at the white board in his small office in the HELP central office, an old home that seems to have survived the earthquake well, with classrooms made of bamboo in front and behind, he writes down the five leadership pillars they teach the students so I can’t possibly fail to include them in my little notebook: courage, sacrifice, service, rigor and respect. Everything I see about the program, even the gentle chiding I receive from Jeangilles for returning later than anticipated from my dash to find lunch down the street, confirms that they live the principles as much as they teach them.

“I’m dreaming of having more HELP students working in government, in Congress. Why not have one become president?” Delice figures that creating this future isn’t wishful thinking, they simply need to create bigger classes with 100 to 200 students, a big, but reasonable jump from the 25 that just entered the program. He believes that restoring ethics and integrity to the Haitian government is the key to Haiti’s future prosperity.

What Will Fix Haiti? These Amazing People!

After four days in Haiti, I’ve seen some amazing things and met some of the most amazing people I’ve found anywhere.

It is late and I just posted today’s Forbes post about HELP, an organization that is helping to ensure that the very brightest, underprivileged kids get the opportunity to go to college. They encourage them to stay in Haiti to make the country better rather than to leave the country. By training them as leaders and turning them loose in Haiti, they hope to change the country’s fortunes and future. Read the story here.

Today’s story will be amazing. I could hardly believe was I was seeing. I met a 28-year-old running the country’s largest plastic recycling business. This one young entrepreneur is responsible for ensuring that there is almost no plastic garbage on the streets of Port-au-Prince.

Francois Benoit, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Francois Benoit standing in the middle of his rooftop farm, photo by Devin Thorpe.

Then, I met Francios Benoit, the former ambassador to the United States who spent 30 years in exile. Past 70, he’s now an entrepreneur with a plan to remake Haiti’s agricultural industry. There’s much more to the story, but let me tease you with the fact that he has a farm (it would be an insult to call it a garden) on his roof!

In addition, I met the team from EGI–Entrepreneurship, Growth, Innovation–to learn about the challenges and opportunities they see in fostering economic growth through formal entrepreneurship.

It’s past midnight and I’ve got another full day tomorrow! See you then!

These Social Entrepreneurs Risked Their Lives To Produce Charcoal In Haiti

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

This is the first of a series of reports from Haiti.

This is the second in a series of articles from Haiti.

To tell the story of the social venture Carbon Roots, we have to go back to the Haiti earthquake.

Lyle Sorensen is an orthopedic surgeon who came to Haiti to volunteer for a month immediately following the January 12, 2010 earthquake.

While here, he was a presented with a rare case of tuberculosis of the spine, something he could not treat in Haiti. He reached out to colleagues and friends in the U.S. for help and Julia Helstrom Coupet, whose husband Mendel Coupet is Haitian, made arrangements to treat the boy, Netus Madiode, in Philadelphia. He had two major surgeries and was essentially cured. Once a paraplegic, the boy was able to play soccer again. While the boy was being treated, Lyle visited Philadelphia from Seattle and his son, Eric Sorensen, who was living in New York joined them.

The younger Sorensen had been doing some research on “biochar” a sort of soil amendment made from charcoal made from agricultural waste. Coupet was very excited about the implications of using biochar in Haiti and invited Eric to come down and visit his family in a remote village in the central part of Haiti.

Sorensen and his partners Hannah Erickson, who last year also became his wife, and Ryan Delaney, went to Haiti later that year for their first visit. They were successful in producing some biochar and even in showing the locals that the biochar increased crop yields. They set up a nonprofit entity to help fund their work and continued working with regular visits to get Haitians to use the charcoal as a soil amendment.

Ryan Delaney and Eric Sorensen of Carbon Roots near Cap Haitien, Haiti. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Ryan Delaney and Eric Sorensen of Carbon Roots near Cap Haitien, Haiti. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Following the earthquake, a cholera epidemic broke out. Approximately 700,000 people got cholera and 9,000 people died. Sorensen got sick while visiting a remote village in central Haiti. After five days of severe diarrhea, he and Delaney hiked out, got back in their car and drove to Port-au-Prince to a hospital where he was diagnosed with cholera and treated.

Delaney, reflecting on nearly six years of work in Haiti, told me yesterday that the biggest lesson he’s learned is to “learn to think like a Haitian.” He’s referring to the insights that the founders were slow to accept.

The locals kept asking if they couldn’t burn the charcoal made from the agricultural waste instead of using it as a fertilizer. For many months, the trio persisted in their efforts to get Haitians excited about this plentiful fertilizer that would also be carbon negative.

Ultimately, they saw the light. They began to appreciate that the vast majority of Haitians cooked with charcoal, meaning that this is a huge business. So, with a pivot as big as the market, the three founders shifted from producing biochar to producing charcoal made from agricultural waste.

To get excited about this, the trio of founders began to appreciate some significant environmental benefits to their charcoal. First and foremost, they wouldn’t be cutting down trees. Deforestation in Haiti is such a problem that making charcoal from wood is illegal, despite the fact that the entire country uses wood-based charcoal to cook every meal.

Deforestation isn’t an abstract concept in Haiti, they tell me. Given that deforestation contributes to landslides that kill people, Haitians view deforestation as real and present danger.

By using agricultural waste, they realized they could do a lot to protect the most critical aspect of Haiti’s environment.

They moved the base of operations from the agricultural region in the more remote center of the country, to Cap Haitien, the largest city on the northern coast of Haiti and formed the company, Carbon Roots. Delaney moved permanently to Haiti at this point. Sorensen continues to spend about 25 percent of his time in Haiti.

Shortly after the move, Delaney was invited by a social enterprise in Cusco, Peru to come do some consulting. Although he realized he was not feeling well when he got on the plane, he left Cap Haitien for Port-au-Prince bound for Miami, then on to Lima and finally to Cusco. By the time he arrived, he was delirious with fever. He checked into his hotel but quickly recognized he would need some medication. He stumbled into a hospital hoping to get some medication for malaria, thinking that was what he had. They quickly diagnosed him with Typhoid and admitted him with a fever of 104.5. Before he recovered, he developed pneumonia and spent five days in the hospital there, for which he was charged $400, after being told, it would be “kind of expensive,” he says. He noted that he’s glad he went to Cusco because he’s sure he got better treatment there than he could have received in Haiti.

Charcoal production at Carbon Roots. (Note that the material being burned to produce charcoal would be burned in any event.) Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Charcoal production at Carbon Roots. (Note that the material being burned to produce charcoal would be burned in any event.) Photo by Devin Thorpe.

In Cap Haitien, they began making charcoal at scale. Today, the company produces five tons of charcoal every day in 200 small kilns, converted barrels. They are the largest producer of charcoal in the country and likely the only one producing legal charcoal. They sell the product under the brand name Chabon Boul,

Customers tell them that their charcoal is better than other charcoal on the market, that it lights faster, lasts longer and burns more evenly.

Last year, MIT did in-home testing of their charcoal and noted that it is much cleaner burning, with 29 percent less CO2 and 39 percent less particulate matter than wood-based charcoal. They, too, noted that it is more thermally efficient.

It also works well in modern, clean-burning cookstoves.

To date, Carbon Roots has survived almost entirely off grants. They received early, small grants from Arizona State University where Delaney earned a master’s degree in sustainability. The also received a grant from Halloran Philanthropies.

Much of their money has come from US AID’s DIV program for Development Innovation Ventures. The program provides grants in three stages up to $150,000, $1.5 million and $15 million respectively.

Sorensen and Delaney would like to quickly triple their capacity. To do so, they want to buy and install some much more sophisticated and expensive production equipment. They say they need $800,000 to $900,000 for the equipment, which will come from Viet Nam.

The new technology would have significantly lower emissions than their current production process. To create charcoal you create a controlled burn of the material, carefully managing the oxygen to prevent a full burn. The partially burned material, which can be burned again, is charcoal. The fully burned material is ash, they explained.

A local Haitian demonstrates how to make charcoal from wood. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

A local Haitian demonstrates how to make charcoal from wood. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

The new equipment will capture and use the waste heat to dry the raw agricultural waste before it is burned and then will essentially bake the briquettes to harden them, a process that takes days on drying racks today. The new process will also allow them to produce some electricity that will power some of their equipment.

One of the goals the founders have is to create employment for Haitians. They now have 50 permanent employees on working on production. In addition, they employee about 45 workers as day laborers. Finally, they have about 30 women engaged in their new retail distribution system.

Sorensen reminded me, however, that while their goal is to create employment, “this isn’t a jobs program. We have to be efficient.” They are serious about creating jobs for locals. The two are the only expats on the team; all of the other employees are local hires.

Their new retail distribution model will help them employ more people. The model will create what they will call boutiques where women will come in the morning to get charcoal to sell. They will take the charcoal on consignment and will borrow a wheel barrow from the boutique. They will leave their national ID card as collateral. Some women work a route, delivering the charcoal. Others stake out a spot in their neighborhood where passersby will purchase the charcoal. In either case, they return the wheel barrow to the shop at the end of the day and pay for the charcoal they took in the morning. Typically, the women will pocket $13 for a day’s work. With about 70 percent of Haitians living on less than $2 and 50 percent living on less than $1, the profit represents good wages—especially given that they don’t need to buy any inventory up front.

Carbon Roots was selected as part of the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) at Santa Clara University I’ve written about here. Sorensen credits the experience with helping them to put the final pieces together.

Within eight years, the founders hope to have about 25 percent of the charcoal market in Haiti, a market of about $300 million annually. They are excited about the environmental impact that will have on the countryside.

These guys exemplify a “do whatever it takes” attitude. Given the risks they’ve taken, the sacrifices they’ve made in their personal situations, the opportunity costs they refuse to think about, I must say, Delaney and Sorensen are some of the most impressive entrepreneurs I’ve ever met.

Young Social Entrepreneurs May Want To Check Here For Impact Opportunities

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

This is the first of a series of reports from Haiti.

This is the second in a series of articles from Haiti.

Jude V.P. Tranquille, age 29, and living in Port-au-Prince visited Washington, DC for RYLA North America Conference, a meeting for members of Rotaract, a youth group associated with Rotary International. While there, he made a connection that would not only change his life but that has the potential to help infinitely more.

Tranquille met Jan Holz, a young man who splits time between the U.S. and Germany, something that is relatively easy when you work for Lufthansa. Tranquille expressed his desire to create some sustainable progress in Haiti, having been frustrated by the futility of much of the earthquake relief that focused on handouts that needed to be repeated in order to work. When he gave people food following the quake, he noted, they were hungry the very next day.

Jude Tranquille. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Jude Tranquille. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Holz got the picture and quickly they came up with the idea of hosting an entrepreneurship camp for young entrepreneurs. Jann solicited support from Lufthansa and HelpAlliance a nonprofit created by Lufthansa employees. Tanquille brought Devoted Servants, his own nonprofit. Together, they recruited help from the Rotary Club of Wall Street and the Rotary Club de Delmas-Aeroporte, among other supporters and sponsors.

In the summer of 2014, they held their first two-week camp for 28 young entrepreneurs. For 2015, they found 34 entrepreneurs, many of whom had heard about the camp from people who attended the first one. The second camp ran for three weeks rather than two and attracted a crop of somewhat more serious entrepreneurs, many of whom already had small businesses they were working to launch.

During my visit, I caught up with three of the founders of Novac, an ambitious group of young people planning to conquer the world, starting with backbacks. The three are Smiff Lormier, Peterson Figaro and Napoleon Rodolpho.

Peterson Figaro, Smiff Lormier and Napoleon Rodolpho. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

Peterson Figaro, Smiff Lormier and Napoleon Rodolpho. Photo by Devin Thorpe.

They credited the camp with helping them to find key partners, including an embroiderer to sew their logo onto the backpacks and a workshop with dozens of sewing machines where they can produce their orders renting the shop by the day, radically reducing their capital requirements.

Prior to the camp, the three had done a round of fundraising, selling shares in their nascent business founded in March. After describing their round in basic terms and doing some quick calculations they reported that they had raised $2,000. They’ve already produced hundreds of backpacks and are negotiating an order to produce special backpacks for drones that could yield a gross profit of $5,000. In Haiti, their business is starting to get real.

Another pair of entrepreneurs that participated in the conference, was Diego Desulme and Jenny JeanJacque, founders of A-Tech (and newly engaged to be married). A-Tech is a social enterprise, focusing on helping young Haitians explore the opportunities available in the 21st Century by increasing computer literacy.

The A-Tech strategy is to publish booklets that provide training on how to use computers, so students can affordably prepare for their limited time in front of computers, which few can afford. Even in schools, access to computers is limited.

The books include some advertising that covered the printing costs. The books were then sold to other young entrepreneurs in bundles all around Haiti and were then resold to students eager to learn how to use computers.

The first year program was so successful that Lufthansa not only signed up to support the second year, but funded the production of a documentary film of the second year camp. The film was screened by the Rotary Club of Wall Street for visiting Rotarians and dignitaries from around the world last week at the Rotary UN Day and was apparently a hit with the audience.

Rotarians from around the world were involved in the Entrepreneurship Camp. Dominique Bazin, a Rotary Assistant Governor, provided local support in Port-au-Prince. Jack Guy Lafontant, President-elect for the Rotary Club de Petion-ville was also engaged. Susanne Gellert worked on the project on behalf of the Rotary Club of Wall Street.

Young social entrepreneurs may wish to check out the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards or RYLA, where they may make international connections that may help them find exciting opportunities for impact.

Could This Photo Be The Metaphor That Explains Haiti’s Problems?

Yesterday, I spent the day working on a story I just posted to Forbes about young social entrepreneurs finding impact opportunities around the world through Rotary’s Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA).

As research for the story, I met with some young entrepreneurs who had been trained at an entrepreneurship camp organized by Rotoractors (young Rotarians).

The entrepreneurs make backpacks. Nice ones. They took me into the shop where they rent space to produce the bags.  Check out what I found.

Photo by Devin Thorpe

Photo by Devin Thorpe

Here’s another photo of the same machine, the first of about twenty in the shop.

Photo by Devin Thorpe

Photo by Devin Thorpe

In case your eyes are playing tricks on you, let me explain what you are seeing. These are manual sewing machines that are still in use. Built 100 years ago or more, I imagine, they are still used. Perhaps they serve only as backups for times when the power is out or only for light duty tasks. The backpacks, my young entrepreneurs explained, are not produced on these machines.

This struck me as a tragic metaphor for the challenges facing the country. In a place where 100 year old technology still has utility, a century’s opportunities appear to have largely passed it by.

My trip has also been filled with inspiring visits with people who are working hard to help Haiti catch up with the 21st century. It is more opportunity than problem. Ten million people are waiting and ready to join the rest of us in the year 2015. I’m convinced a clever group of entrepreneurs are the key to activating this population and helping them to join us at a much higher level of prosperity.

Turns Out, I probably Won’t Die in Haiti

Well, I wasn’t bored on my first full day in Haiti.

During the night, I recognized that I’d come down with something. So quickly after I arrived, I concluded that it probably wasn’t serious and so continued with my plans.

The day took me to Cap Haitien on the northern coast of Haiti, where I connected with two great social entrepreneurs who are working to end the deforestation here. The country is about 2 percent forest today. In 1920, it was approximately 60 percent forest. All of it is gone as a result of charcoal. These guys make charcoal from ag waste–no trees are harmed.

Eco-friendly charcoal fresh off the machine. Photo by Devin ThorpeA

Eco-friendly charcoal fresh off the machine. Photo by Devin Thorpe

As we visited, they shared horror stories with me. Eric Sorensen got cholera and Ryan Delaney got typhoid. Obviously, both survived. You can read their full story in Forbes here.

By the time we finished our visit, however, I was pretty convinced that I was going to die from whatever was ailing me. Twenty-four hours later and a good night sleep, I’m pretty confident that I’ll live to fly home on Saturday.

So, I woke this morning feeling much better and spent the day with mostly young, ambitious local entrepreneurs who are just trying to make a go of a business in Haiti. With support from the local Rotary Club and the Rotary Club of Wall Street, dozens of entrepreneurs have received training that we all hope will allow them to become successful.

Tomorrow, I’ll post a more complete report on the entrepreneurs I met today. One thing that is becoming clear to me here is that lighting that entrepreneurial flame will be critical to growing this economy. As I visit with people, it often feels as if the world has conspired against Haiti to bring it to ruin.

This evening, I attended the Rotary Club de Petion-Ville meeting where I met a great gastroenterology. I was very pleased to get his card. Just in case.


Reporting from Haiti

Today, I arrived in Haiti. This week, I’ll be reporting from here on my observations about the country.

Let’s be clear, I don’t expect to understand, much less figure out how to solve, the country’s many woes, but I do hope to identify people, entrepreneurs, and organizations that are making a difference here.

Haiti is widely recognized to be the poorest country  in the Western Hemisphere. That abstraction didn’t prepare me for my arrival in Port-au-Prince. My ride from the airport, which struck me as adequate, but inferior to many I’ve visited in the developing world, to the guest house I booked on Airbnb, allowed me to see that this may be the poorest country I’ve every visited. (My past visits in the developing world include struggling countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America over the last four decades.)

The people I’ve encountered here in my first few hours, are all delightful. In all my travels, I’ve never encountered such a friendly passport control officer. I greeted him in bad French and he responded in French asking me if I spoke French. I couldn’t even answer that simply question. He switched to English, which was flawless, and was quite forgiving.

Damage from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

The country of just over 10 million people was, of course, devastated by the earthquake centered here in Port-au-Prince.  Some 200,000 people died as a result of the quake–an almost unfathomable number. To put it into perspective, it would be as if every person in Salt Lake City suddenly died. My home town is the political center of a large metropolitan area with about 2 million people living in it, much as there are about 2 million people living in Port-au-Prince.

Stay tuned here this week for reports on the social entrepreneurs and nonprofits that I’ll profile. I hope that seeing their work will give me hope for the future of the country and provide models for this work elsewhere. After the quake, the mantra here was “build back better.” Lacking the perspective of a pre-quake visit, I nonetheless hope to get some sense of whether that is in fact happening six years on.


Seattle-Based Fledge Hatches 39 Social Ventures Or ‘Fledglings’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Michael “Luni” Libes is the social entrepreneurs’ social entrepreneur. He created Fledge, an accelerator for social entrepreneurs that has now helped to create over $10 million in total funding for it ventures since its founding in 2012.

The problem, as Luni sees it, is all wrapped up in opportunity. “The trouble is, the problems of the world continue to expand, while the majority of the money, infrastructure, and power lie in the for-profit sector. If only businesses solved the important problems of the world, their success would lead to profits, scaling up those solutions, then more profits, more scaling, and so on, in a virtuous, self-sustaining cycle.”

Luni boasts, “Thirty-nine ’fledglings’ have graduated from the six Fledge programs run over the last three years. Companies such as Evrnu, making cotton recyclable; BURN Manufacturing and Obamastove, manufacturing clean cookstoves in Africa; Distributed Energy Management, conserving energy through financial management; Ensibuuko, modernizing the savings and credit co-ops of East Africa; Seeder, matching green builders with green building suppliers; East Africa Fruit, aggregating and distributing fruits and vegetables in Tanzania, Deehubs, at the corner of free speech and social media; Shift Labs, designing medical devices for the developing world, and dozens of others.”

You can see a full list at

Luni explains, “Each of these companies received an investment from Fledge, plus 10 weeks of intense training, guidance, and mentorship. Since graduating from Fledge, these companies have raised more than $10 million in follow-on funding, earned millions in total revenues, and created over 300 jobs, all while saving lives, saving trees, cleaning the environment, and alleviating poverty.”

“By proving it possible to do good by doing business, Fledge will not only help hundreds of startups get started, and not only provide a return to our investors, but we will showcase a model that others can copy, so that hundreds of thousands of other entrepreneurs can join this new model of business,” he concludes.

On Thursday, November 5, 2015 at 3:00 Eastern, Luni will join me here for a live discussion about Fledge and the fledglings it has incubated and hatched. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Fledge:

Twitter: @FledgeLLC

Fledge is the conscious company accelerator, educating, guiding, and mentoring mission-driven for-profit startups from around the world.

Michael ‘Luni’ Libes, courtesy of Fledge

Michael ‘Luni’ Libes, courtesy of Fledge

Luni’s bio:

Twitter: @Lunarmobiscuit

Luni is a 20+ year serial entrepreneur, most recently founder of Fledge, the conscious company accelerator, and the Entrepreneur in Residence at Pinchot University. Luni is the author of The Next Step series of guidebooks on entrepreneurship, and The Pinchot Impact Index, outlining a technique for measuring impact across a portfolio of companies.

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