Working in Partnership for the Empowerment of Haitian Women Entrepreneurs
by CHES Inc
Authored by Rebecca Roseme
Working in Haiti requires patience, perseverance and PARTNERSHIP. This summer CHES was fortunate to have worked in partnership with Partners for Change (PfC). I first met Myriam Jeannis, the founder and executive director of PfC many years ago as I was sitting at a community event selling products to promote and to fundraise for CHES. We quickly developed a rapport and kept in touch for several years. During that time, we looked for ways to work together. We finally found the right thing: business training in Gonaives, Haiti for the vulnerable mothers of the children for whom her organization provides scholarships to attend elementary school.
PfC, much like CHES, understands that we cannot just feed a person but we must teach them to fish. There is a widespread saying that I love that says, “Teach a man to fish and he will learn to feed himself. Teach a woman to fish, and everybody will eat.” Studies show that women are more likely to spend their earnings on their families than men. Myriam has been working with these vulnerable women to empower them and to help them become self-sustainable. When Myriam asked us at CHES to come and host a business training workshop for these women as part of PfC’s micro finance program, we were very delighted to do so. Two members of the CHES team and two volunteers – all women- banded together and went to Haiti to deliver this workshop.
We surveyed the mothers and learned many things about them. Of those who responded (14 out of 15 women), 64% of them fall within the 31-40 age range. Half of them are single and 34% of them are married. Half of these women never stepped foot in a school. 21% of them attended some or all of primary school. 14% percent of these women attended secondary school and another 14% received some higher education. 86% of these mothers are merchants. They either travel on foot to sell their products, own small stands in local marketplaces, or own in-home boutiques. 72% of these women care for four or more children and/or dependents. Two women reported that they are responsible for nine children. Despite these grim statistics, these women are full of life. One would not know their hardships at first sight. They were forever laughing about some joke that one of them cracked during the workshop. Smiles and laughs abounded throughout our time together. We, the workshop facilitators, grew deeply attached to these warm souls.
In our short time with the PfC mothers – three days, we covered many common business concepts with them such as Marketing, Sales, Inventory Management, Customer Service and Break-even Analysis. We also taught a Conscious Capitalism component during the training. We covered taking a stakeholder value maximization approach to running a business versus a shareholder value maximization approach. We also covered personal values and aligning them with business values. We had a guest speaker from a long standing and well respected micro finance firm, FONKOZE, talk to the women about lending and managing a business for growth.
Given the above statistics on our audience, one might assume that these women might find it difficult to grasp some of these concepts. Au contraire! We presented the content in Kreyòl, the spoken language in Haiti. French and Kreyòl are Haiti’s national languages. French is largely utilized in the country’s education system but less than 10% of the population speak, read and write the language. 100% of the country’s population speak Kreyòl. It was a key enabler for comprehension. We engaged the women in the learning process through group discussions, through individual and group exercises, and through role playing exercises. Visual aides with graphics that helped the points hit home. We also provided the handouts with the key points in Kreyòl. One might wonder, “Why give a group of women who are mostly illiterate written material?” Well, education is highly prized in the Haitian culture. For a woman who never went to school, receiving tangible learning material is empowering. While she might not be able to read, she knows someone who is able to read and help her understand the material.
During the workshop, I was pleased to see how quickly the women jumped to each other’s aid. Those who could write helped us facilitators help those who could not complete the written exercises. If one person didn’t quite understand a concept we presented, those that did would jump in to clarify and help their colleague understand.
13 people of the 15 people we trained earned a certificate of completion. A certificate was earned by attending the entire program. In the feedback survey responses, 77% of respondents (13 out of 14) thought that our training was excellent, the highest rating possible. The mothers made comments such as: “Everyone participated and understood all the subjects taught. ” “I feel alive.” “When I got home, I practiced what I learned about inventory management.” “I gained many things for my life through this training.”
We worked closely with PfC to prepare the training. I highly commend them, especially Myriam, for their engagement every step of the way leading up to our arrival to Gonaives and throughout our time there. PfC’s deep-in-the-trenches style of engagement had a great part in the glowing reviews from the women on our training. I’m pleased to report that CHES and PfC are working on a follow-up measure to evaluate the real impact of our training and to refine CHES’ follow-up program. In the feedback survey responses, the women made the following pledges: “I will practice everything I learned.” “I will share with others in my neighborhood.” I look forward to learning more about the outcomes!
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