Bonjou from Haiti once again! I couldn’t hold back the excitement last Thursday as I flew over the beautiful mountains and water before touching ground. I am thrilled to be back in my other home.
Leading up to being back in Haiti, I had been on cloud nine. My time in Nashville was so incredibly productive and encouraging. I was asked to speak at the Belmont Board of Trustees meeting about my Lumos experience so far. Many influential people in the Nashville community were present, including Governor Bill Lee. Talk about an honor!
When Kathy got to Nashville, we hit the ground running since we only had 24 hours there. We went to Thistle Farms (one of my favorite social enterprises that makes body and home products) for lunch, where I coincidentally had been twice already earlier in the week. When I went to their tour and meditation the day prior, I had the chance to meet their CEO as well as representatives of their Global Team (who choose which products they sell from other companies with similar missions). When Kathy and I were there the next day, I happened to run into both the CEO and the Global Team representative again, and was able to introduce them to Kathy!
After lunch, we headed to Able for a tour of their facility. I had gotten to meet with their Fashion Director earlier in the week (a Belmont Enactus alum) and she answered so many questions for me and encouraged me to bring Kathy by. We were so thankful to get to tour their amazing facility and to get to talk to some of their employees about their experience working in a social-impact focused company.
Later in the afternoon, Kathy and I met with the Belmont Enactus: 2nd Story Goods team. Kathy shared stories with them and told them how impactful the work they’re doing with us truly is. You could feel the inspiration in the air on both sides as we all got to sit together for a little while and learn from each other.
After the Enactus meeting, Kathy, Clancy (our Enactus Project Manager), and I headed to an impact investing event at Nisolo that Dr. Gonas invited us to. Nisolo is another successful social enterprise based in Nashville. Kathy finally got to meet Dr. Gonas, and we got to chat with investors who are interested in social impact investing. Picture this: me in a blazer and my ethically-made Nisolo shoes, networking and giving my 2nd Story Goods elevator pitch to investors, while passing out my fancy new business cards. I was living the dream my friends! We got to listen to the founder and CEO of Nisolo speak as well as a portfolio manager from Merrill Lynch, who talked about the evolving space of social impact investing.
The following morning, Kathy and I went to Belmont for the Social Impact Investing seminar. We listened while different experts talked about different aspects of social impact investing. We learned so much practical knowledge about the kind of metrics and data we should be capturing in our work. We were so encouraged to see evidence that the world is moving towards social impact, even in the corporate sector. Though we are currently structured as a non-profit, these conversations led us to a bigger conversation within the company about the possibility of moving into the for-profit sphere eventually. I am excited to continue to research and talk to other business leaders about this option!
I left Nashville with a stack of business cards from people who I want to stay connected with as Kathy and I headed straight to meet Beaver in Atlanta for the Much Ministries/2nd Story Goods board meeting. It was so helpful for me to get to meet the board members and learn about what their backgrounds are in, so I have an idea of which ones we can reach out to for certain things in the future. I was so thankful to get to sit in on the meetings and learn about things happening within Much Ministries that aren’t on my daily radar, as well as discuss ideas for the future.
After the meetings, Beaver, Kathy, and I drove to south Georgia where they are from. I got to see the place where the Much Ministries vision originally began, with a marketplace that benefited the community in Waynesville, GA. I got to meet many other people who have worked with them in Haiti over the past several years. And most importantly, I finally got to see our U.S. warehouse. I was able to get to know Adam, our warehouse/wholesale sales manager, and we were able to have some of our Traction strategic planning meetings there.
This ended up being perfect timing for my “promotion” to go into effect. I have been asked to step into the role of Marketing Director (or Chief Marketing Officer as we like to say) and to stay in Haiti for another year after my Lumos grant ends in October. As the Marketing Director, I am now responsible for coordinating our marketing efforts both in the U.S. and Haiti and casting an overall vision and plan for our marketing. I was given the additional title of “Assistant to the COO” as I will continue assisting Kathy and helping to improve our supply chain management. Can you tell that we’re a small company where everyone wears many hats?! Both of these jobs were already what I had planned to do during my Lumos journey, but now I am a little more official with these fancy titles.
I flew out of the U.S. with Beaver; Kathy is staying in Georgia for another month to get her the first draft of her book about 2nd Story Goods finished. When we landed in Haiti, the busses were not running due to protests and roadblocks happening throughout the country, so we stayed at a guesthouse in Port au Prince for the evening. We were able to catch a ride to Gonaives the next day with a big team of doctors who had just flown in.
Before I explain what the political unrest is about, I want to make it clear I have not been at all concerned for my safety since I re-entered the country; this is because I have paid attention and taken all necessary precautions, have so many people here looking out for me, and also because what’s happening doesn’t necessarily directly affect foreigners here.
The protests are happening because some Haitians are wanting the current president to step down. The reason for this is a mix of factors. Truly it all starts in 1804 when Haiti declared its independence from France, because everything that has happened since then in Haiti very much affects everything that is happening today, but I will keep this summary current. In July of last year, the government lifted subsidies on gas, causing fuel prices to skyrocket. Additionally, the public found out that money that had been lended by Venezuela to Haiti with the intention of being used for development, was never actually invested into the country; rather, some higher-up Haitians stole the money, and now everyone wants to know where it went. Since July, there have been several manifestations protesting what has come to be known as “Petro Caribe”, after the name of the Caribbean oil alliance with Venezuela. Fast forward to today, and couple that with a shortage of fuel, an ever-increasing exchange rate, and unfulfilled promises by the president, and it’s no wonder that people are angry, frustrated, and demanding some kind of justice and change. But alas, you think you have all of this figured out, and then you learn that a lot of the protesting takes place because politicians who want the president’s job pay people to riot and get him out. This is just a little peak into the complications of the economic and political environment in Haiti.
I have to admit that all the excitement and the things we learned and planned in our time in the states juxtaposed with a time of distress in Haiti left me not quite knowing how to feel. I know that I could plan all the marketing initiatives that I want, but if we can’t get our people to work or move our products to the states, it all falls apart and defeats the whole purpose of facilitating economic freedom for Haitians. But on my way to Gonaives with the team of Americans, I ended up sitting in the back of a car with a man who just recently moved his family back to the U.S. from Tanzania after being in missions there for 12 years. We had one of those “wow, I needed this and didn’t even know it” conversations; he asked me how I saw my work connected to building the Kingdom of God, and I told him that is the entire purpose of this work for me. He shared some of his experiences in Tanzania, and how he learned that they could do all the development work in the world, but at the end of the day, when the Westerners pack up and leave, the thing that’s going to have the most sustainable impact is the mindset and confidence change that takes place in the people he was working with. He said when he realized this, it took a lot of pressure off of being “successful” as in the way we define it in America, especially because there are so many factors that are out of his control, and he focused more on pouring into people so that local leaders could continue to rise up, even after he left. Everything he said resonated with what we’re about at Much Ministries, and it was such a good reminder as I was re-entering Haiti, ready to take on my new position full-force. This reminded me to not forget the relationships that are being formed and the leadership that is being developed, and how that is the ultimate purpose of my work here; I am being developed just as much if not more than the Haitian people I am working with, and if that doesn’t scream the equality and justice of the Kingdom of God, then I don’t know what does.