The thing about working in a country like Haiti, is that it is super hard to find a recipe for success. I have consulted with many people who come through our artisan facility and ask me how to do what I did. They bring in their manuals, business plans, case studies, and advertisement schemes and ask me what I think of their plans and it makes me feel kind of sheepish because they are so much more professional and thought out than I ever was. It honestly makes me feel like a bit of a 3rd grader. I didn’t have a clue what I was stepping into and I have no business background, marketing strategy, or education to help me find my way. It is always amusing to watch people stop and scratch their heads and nod to the side just a little when I tell them I have no experience with any of what I am doing and that I studied German and linguistics in college before becoming a full time mom. It doesn’t make sense. And yet for so many of them, their big plans, are what ultimately don’t end up making sense. Especially in such a wild-card context as Haiti.
So what is it really, that can make a person succeed in an environment like this? Massive unemployment means most people have no frame of reference for how to act in a professional setting. Under-education, lack of exposure to ideas, unawareness of the global market, no knowledge of cost structure, lacking ethics, and lack of rule of law are just some of the things that we come up against while trying to work in a country like Haiti.
For me, there are three determining factors that have made the difference between those I have seen succeed and those who have packed up and left after just a few years.
I met a really, really smart girl with all the business know how and every problem thought out leave after two years of trying to build a business in the handicraft sector. For her it was a stepping stone. A resume line. A peace corps experience. But when she left, she left hopes deferred and frustrated young women who went right back to the poverty that she had started to build a stairway out of. In some ways, this kind of short term dedication and the mistrust it leaves behind is worse than if nothing had ever been started.
When I started what I started, I didn’t much care what it was that I would be doing. I simply felt a passion for mothers. It was a calling and it has been impossible to ignore. I had a revelation of the pain that it would be to have to relinquish a child and I never wanted, in all my life, for a woman to have to go through that as far as it could be prevented by my efforts. It has become my identity. My passion. My calling. It is what drives me and sustains me when I am stolen from, lied to, disappointed, can’t pay the bills, and am sweating and sick in this country. I look at my children and am so grateful that I have never had to make a decision as hard as mothers all around me are faced with. There is nothing that keeps me more motivated than that. It is a supernatural infusion of passion into my life and I couldn’t turn it off if I tried.
Presence is the difference between success and failure here. I have never seen an organization that is well managed and well run from a distance in Haiti. One of the biggest problems I see in the non-profit world is the disconnect between what board members and leadership in the states are dreaming of and what is actually going on on the ground in Haiti. It is impossible to have the oversight for business, the wisdom considering the culture, and the connection to the Haitian people that is necessary from abroad. People come to me all the time and ask if they can visit 3-4 times a year for training, pick up artisan goods and do I think it will work? I can tell you that I have never seen it work well. People, and ideally the visionary or founder, needs to be on the ground, getting their hands in the dirt and doing the real work, with the real tears, and the real pain in order for it to be successful. Solidarity with the poor, solidarity to Haiti is crucial. I have been living in Haiti full time for 8 years. It has made the difference in what I do. It has connected me forever to the people and the pain that I seen around me and forged a bond that keeps me continually connected.
I had a business consultant come and spend a week with me. He asked me time and time again what my purpose was. He asked me if all of my employees knew what the company’s purpose was. He told me that we needed to have our purpose stamped on our hearts and engrained in the minds of our employees so that when someone walks in and asks them what they are doing, that they breathe out the words, “We are working to be able to take care of our children and to create opportunity for other mothers to do the same.” Why are we here? I was not put on this earth to be a manufacturer of mugs or a peddler of paper jewelry. I was called to give hope and opportunity and be an advocate for moms to be able to raise their children with dignity. Every morning I wake up and I know that this is why I am here. In my manager meetings, they know beyond a shadow of a doubt why we are here. We have been saturated with purpose.
My passion, my presence, and my purpose is in Haiti with families and mothers. What is your purpose? How are you present? How are you passionate? What wakes you up every morning? Find the answer to that, go for it, and I believe you will be successful.