Helping Haiti Through Entrepreneurship
Three years after a catastrophic earthquake rocked Haiti, the country has still not fully recovered. But one Haitian-American entrepreneur seeks to address his native country's need through business development--and he's rallying other Haitian natives to do the same.
Right after the 2010 earthquake, Orelien, the CEO of SciMetrika, a public health consulting firm in North Carolina, offered his company's services. He traveled to Haiti with a group of statisticians to survey residents so that aid organizations could better meet their needs. Initially, Orelien hoped to create a nonprofit that would focus on public health efforts in Haiti and other countries. But after seeing so many nonprofits come to Haiti, he decided that his native country would benefit more greatly from a focus on economic development. "What the country needs from me is my contribution as a businessman, to help create jobs," he says.
His first step: building Club Azura, a mixed-use development that will include a hotel as well as residential and retail space. Orelien chose the project for its ability to create jobs, due to the vast amounts of labor required for both construction and hospitality.
Orelien believes Club Azura has the potential to spur local entrepreneurship as well. The development will attract Haitian-American tourists, he says, who will be potential customers for Haitian merchants and artisans. "What we're seeing now is that people want to create more formal businesses, as opposed to doing business in the underground economy," he says. Club Azura is well placed to attract a wide customer base: it is located on Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic and is only 14 miles away from Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.
Club Azura isn't the only project Orelien is backing. He has organized a group of Haitian-American entrepreneurs to launch a transportation company, which will provide rental car, taxi, and shuttle services for both residents and tourists. Currently, Orelien says, travelers in the country have few alternatives to public transportation vehicles, which are often crowded and poorly maintained. "If you want to go somewhere, you have to rely on an informal network," he says. "There isn't a company you can call."
Central to Orelien's efforts is the idea of partnership between local residents and Haitian-Americans. Given the many layers of bureaucracy involved in setting up business in the country, he believes the support of Haitian-Americans is critical to spurring economic development. "We know the country," he says. "We can do the due diligence." In time, he thinks Haiti will attract more private investors, as well as partnerships with nonprofits that recognize the importance of economic initiatives. "I'm seeing increased involvement by Haitian-Americans," he says. "It's what gives me hope for the country."