Healthcare and Business Development

  • Posted on: 16 January 2006
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

Haitians are nothing if not hard-working. Making ends meet from week to week on less than a dollar a day requires a tremendous amount of creativity and perseverance, the essential qualities of entrepreneurship. Respected organizations throughout the world such as the Grameen Bank and BRAC have for years helped the poorest of the poor tap this creative spirit through small loans that give individuals the freedom to start their own businesses and provide for their families. When combined with training, micro-credit functions as a strong form of capacity building by providing the external resources needed for people to tap their own inner resources.

Recognizing the empowerment of steady employment, the Partners in Health hospital offers opportunities for patients to learn and practice a variety of vocations. The sale of products supports the patient and the hospital from which he or she is receiving health services. Project Medishare is currently seeking funding to construct a factory large enough to meet the nutritional needs of malnourished children throughout the Central Plateau using nothing but locally grown ingredients. A factory of this size will require many employees, and Project Medishare plans to recruit from women's groups including one for women with HIV/AIDS.

Organizations such as Population Services International (PSI) strive to make health products accessible and desirable to at risk populations through social marketing. While Haiti has no Wal-Marts, one would be hard pressed to find a village without a boutik (general store). When the entrepreneurs who run these stores sell reproductive health products (e.g. condoms, oral re-hydration salts), can communicate their importance, and sell them at a price people can afford, a nationwide distribution network is created that the government could not possibly hope to maintain and expand.

We must also keep in mind that Haiti's health problems are inexorably linked to the environment. Haiti is a mostly mountainous country that has lost the vast majority of its tree cover. The end result is that soil necessary for farming is washed away into rivers and out into the ocean, watersheds are depleted, and families in villages where we lived become further malnourished. Government after government has neglected the environmental degradation in lieu of fighting insecurity in Port-au-Prince. Recognizing this, numerous projects have begun to take the fight for environmental preservation to the countryside. It is entirely possible to use cooking sources other than wood charcoal to make food. Some environmental organizations have taught communities how to make a living by producing briquettes from agricultural byproducts. When pressed and died, these briquettes burn faster and hotter than wood charcoal, for less money and, as an added bonus, less smoke. This is of interest to those of in health, as the exposure of children to the smoke of cooking fuels is a major contributing factor to acute respiratory infections in infants and young children.

Micro-credit programs are especially important for vulnerable populations. Social marketing can help create understanding and availability of products, though these products must be affordable to have any real impact. In addition, the power of the informal economy has not yet been fully tapped in the fight to halt and reverse environmental degradation.

Recognizing the inter-connectedness of health, small business development, and environmental preservation, Haiti Innovation seeks partners working in these areas, people who recognize the importance of supporting them financially, and individuals with relevant experiences areas willing to share their knowledge through our blog.

Bryan Schaaf
Haiti Innovation

Click here to see our projects in business development.

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