The Leadership We Are Talking About

The time has arrived – our bi-annual meeting with our community entrepreneurs (ACs)! After reflections from recent exchanges with our ACs – from repairing water pumps and providing over 1000 community members access to safe drinking water, to searching for solutions to the outbreak of cholera in the northeast of Haiti, to creating “city of lights” in communities by providing solar energy to hundreds of households  – we realize that our community entrepreneurs are true leaders in their community. It is our duty to cultivate this potential and develop the capacity of our entrepreneurs to understand the priorities of the community and identify appropriate solutions to address them.

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SolKomYo Coordinator, Antonio Vixama, presents the strategy of our CAFs (Self-Financed Community Banks) and how it helps communities strengthen their financial security.

During the bi-annual meeting, we facilitated this process by presenting a tool that will better equip the ACs to learn about their communities, the organizations that exist, and the needs of the community members. As Solkomyo, we do not want to solely enter a community and introduce new initiatives that are already being acted upon by local counterparts. We recognize that it is a much more powerful, sustainable approach to work with the organizations that already exist to help them achieve their goals. We introduce tools and training that better equip these organizations to solve their obstacles – for example, through financial literacy training and access to self-financed community banks, to projects in agriculture, to empowering the youth of the organizations to design social ventures.

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The ACs listen intently as we describe the ways in which they are leaders in their communities.

For that, we created a survey in which the ACs can assess the organizations that work in the communities, recognize their strengths, as well as understand the challenges they face. This will include surveys with youth groups, agricultural groups, female merchants, and government offices. The ACs will also ask specific questions about the local needs of the community in energy, water, and cooking, for example. This will allow SolKomYo to map the community and understand where and what can be leveraged in order to empower the work of the communities and increase community organizations’ self-sufficiency, all whilst increasing the capacity of our entrepreneurs to provide these services and solutions.

This not only paints the picture of the communities in which Solkomyo works, but it demonstrates how Solkomyo works hand in hand with the community entrepreneurs to build their capacity and leadership within their communities. We do not just touch the surface of the communities in which we work, but really try to dig deep to identify committed long-term solutions to community needs.

This is how Solkomyo works, and why our community entrepreneurs and stakeholders value the work we do.  Thank you for all who share in this mission and have supported us along the way – none of it would have been possible without you.

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Pump It Up

 

Nudging catalytic community impact

Solisyon Kominote Yo (Solkomyo) is a locally-owned and led Haitian social enterprise that works daily to identify priority community needs and design and implement social innovations to best serve those needs. Solkomyo was founded in 2013 by a team of inspired Haitian leaders with the strategic and financial support of CE Solutions. Since its founding, Solkomyo has focused on empowering aspiring community entrepreneurs to be profound agents of change and help them turn obstacles into opportunities in their community. The team tackles big challenges such as first-time access to energy, healthcare, and financial services. However, we should never overlook the fact that big change can often come in the form of relatively small packages.

A few months ago, Orest, a Solkomyo community entrepreneur, in Acul de Pins came to the Solkomyo leadership team to discuss a water pump that had been broken for over two years in a nearby community. Because of one broken pump, over 1,000 community members had very limited access to water. What they concluded together was that the problem wasn’t that it was impossible to repair the pump. There were technicians around and someone could theoretically buy what was needed to fix the pump right down the road. The problem was that the repair would cost $180 and no one person or family could afford to buy the parts to fix it and that no local strategy had been designed to help people pool their money. As well, even if they were to pool their money, it would take months to save up enough to pay for what was needed. In response to this, Orest and the rest of the Solkomyo team innovated a simple and elegant financing mechanism to repair the pump.

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The managing committee that is contributing to the repair of the water pump. Each month they will pay 25 gourdes to build a protection fund for the water pump. 

Solkomyo agreed that they would co-finance half of the cost to repair the pump if the community was able to raise the other half in two weeks, providing an incentive for the community to come together in a specific time period. Orest, because he is a locally trusted community member, successfully engaged 60 community members to contribute 100 gourdes (US$1.50) each, raising enough to cover the community’s investment. Solkomyo also advised that the community should be responsible if the pump needed to be repaired again. The group immediately volunteered to meet monthly and have each member pay 25 gourdes (US 20 cents) into a maintenance fund. The very next day, the pump was fixed.

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Orest, the Community Entrepreneur (far left), the keyholder of the pump (2nd from left), and Elizabeth, the Solkomyo team member (2nd from right), stand with community members after the water pump is repaired. 

This is an example of sustainable community development where the community is invested in their solutions and takes ownership. Solkomyo was able to play the catalytic role that was needed to help the community help themselves.

A few weeks ago the Solkomyo team stopped by to see how things were going. The pump was surrounded by people using it. It was a beautiful sight to see. A $90 investment, some brainwork, and teamwork is now providing over 1,000 people and 400 students at a local school access to water for the first time in two years.  And the community isn’t just using the pump, it now “owns” the pump, and with the protection fund that was created, they will ensure that the pump continues to serve the community.

Before and after the water pump was repaired in Acul de Pins. How many tanks do you see? They are all filled with drinking water for the community!

Solkomyo is inspired by community-driven solutions to development and when creative entrepreneurial approaches can be identified to solve development challenges. The key is that the community itself needs to be at the center of the solution. This is what social entrepreneurship is all about. And, although sometimes BIG solutions are needed, at other times a simple nudge can serve as a way to empower community members. We’ll keep looking for nudges and we hope you will continue to support our work.

Reflections from SolKomYo

As we close out the year with the bi-annual meeting with our 30 Community Entrepreneurs, we are reflecting on a truly eventful year for SolKomYo. It has been a momentous year where SolKomYo has built relationships, took risks and innovated, and brought new opportunities for the communities of Ouanaminthe. To name a few, we have entered new communities, trained entrepreneurs, developed the SolKomYo ak Jen (SolKomYo with Youth) portfolio, introduced new opportunities for agriculturalists, trained 10 textile workers to be financial literacy trainers, created new community savings groups, strengthened local community organizations, began a relief project, and the list continues. Meanwhile, we are developing immense capacity among the team to lead this community-led development work.

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SolKomYo team member, Elizabeth, presents the roles and responsibilities of SolKomYo during the Community Entrepreneur Meeting.

While the amount of work accomplished is important, we also strive to ensure the quality of all our work is upheld and that we are responding to community needs and creating positive impact among households. For this reason, we continuously conduct follow-up surveys and impact evaluations in the communities in which we work. We hope to strengthen individuals and organizations to become leaders in their community in the long-term and lead this change.

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Community Savings Group Leaders and SolKomYo Coordinator, Antonio Vixama, discuss the progress of the savings groups that SolKomYo has started.

In the bi-annual meeting with our Community Entrepreneurs (AC) we held last Saturday, SolKomYo discussed the program plans for next year, and also took the opportunity to receive feedback from the entrepreneurs. The ACs requested if new technologies could be introduced, if additional trainings could be offered, and if there was a possibility of beginning more agriculture projects in their communities. SolKomYo will continue to innovate to provide a variety of solutions in the communities in which we work.

The SolKomYo team and the Community Entrepreneurs meet twice a year to evaluate the work and present upcoming plans.

In the following year, we will grow our work to bring more opportunities for youth, women, textile workers, agriculturalists, and entrepreneurs. We will continue to provide individuals and organizations the means, ability, and inspiration to be empowered to lead positive change in their communities.

Thank you to everyone who has supported SolKomYo along the way, it would not be possible without your trust and collaboration. We wish you a very Happy New Year and please check back in 2017 to hear about our new initiatives!

Specialists Trained in Solar and Financial Solutions

 

On Friday, August 26th, Solisyon Kominote Yo (SolKomYo) invited 11 Community Entrepreneurs to receive their certification in SolKomYo Innovations: 7 in solar certification and 6 in FOCOPI (Fund for Community Investment and Prevention) (two entrepreneurs received both of the certifications). Each Entrepreneur went through a series of trainings to become specialists in either solar energy or financial education. These entrepreneurs come from 8 different communities in the Northeast Department of Haiti.

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Specialists trained in Solar and Focopi Innovations

The Solison Kominote Yo Solar Energy Products give families light solutions in an affordable and environmentally-friendly manner. They reduce dependence on candles for light and also are safer to use for security and fire hazard reasons. The specialists are trained to raise awareness around the importance of using solar energy and make the technology accessible for remote communities to purchase the product. They also conduct individual conversations in their communities to understand the priorities that the clients have for their families.

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A campaign for solar products hosted in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.

FOCOPI is the financial services program that Solisyon Kimonote Yo offers, which includes financial education courses, savings groups formations, and specialized trainings for small business owners. This group of entrepreneurs were trained on how to make financial education accessible in their communities. They will introduce the financial literacy course to the savings groups that already exist in their communities, providing families with the knowledge to understand their family’s cash flow, how to categorize their expenses, and strategies of how to increase their savings.

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One of the Entrepreneurs gives a presentation during a FOCOPI training.

Solisyon Kominote Yo is proud to certify these 11 individuals to provide solutions to their communities. With these opportunities in place, families become more empowered to make positive changes in their lives.

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Ceremony to celebrate SolKomYo’s new specialists!

Felicitations!

Ouanaminthe’s fair for Locally Produced goods 2016

May 1st is a day on which two holidays are celebrated in Haiti: Labour Day and Agricultural day. As a result, a lot of NGOs operating in Ouanaminthe got together, under the impulsion of the Agency for economic development in the North East (ADANET) to be part of the annual fair for the promotion on the consumption of locally produced goods and the advocacy of local institutions playing a central role in strengthening human capital in and around  Ouanaminthe.

The event, which took place in Ouanaminthe Town Square featured several local vendors of unique, hand made, creative, or customized items.  The fair, was warmly welcomed on the local scene and gave locals and visitors to Ouanaminthe the opportunity to buy locally produced, high quality, fresh, affordable products directly  from carefully selected food producers, craftspeople and artists.

This Annual Event Organised by ADANET ,  which was financially and logistically supported by OXFAM Haiti, served as an excellent selling point for artists and craftspeople as it is for enterprising individuals who are creating delicious delicacies with local seasonal products and serves as an excellent showcase.The team of Solkomyo took advantage of this event to show solidarity to several members of its local partner network and to interact with the local community to further presents its goods and services. Indeed, the event brought  together a large crowd of people coming from every corner of the North-East department as well as several guests from other departments  , who had the opportunity to enjoy a special event held in a lovely setting in the heart of Ouanaminthe.

Finalist in Ashoka’s Fabric of Change Competition

Ashoka supports entrepreneurs around the world that bring innovative solutions to the world’s most challenging problems. Last Fall, Ashoka sought out to find the world’s innovators in the global textile industry in their Fabric of Change: Innovating for a Sustainable Apparel Industry Contest. The textile industry is the world’s second largest employer, and if operated thoughtfully and sustainably, has great potential to bring positive change to global trade.

The finalists to the contest were announced in February, and CES’s initiative in Haiti was shortlisted in the top 10 out of 300 applications from around the world. While the topics spanned from recycling garment waste into renewable fiber to creating ethical compliance standards in artisan supply chains, CES’s Worker Well Being partnership with the Levi Strauss Foundation stood out among applications.

The Worker Well Being Initiative is a partnership with the Levi Strauss Foundation and Codevi Industrial Park to utilize the textile factory located in Ouanaminthe, Haiti as a center point to support community-based change in the community. By offering a financial literacy course to textile workers and community members, CES Haiti provides the knowledge and tools necessary to improve one’s financial situation and increase individual household incomes. In addition, CES Haiti provides essential life-changing technologies to address the light, vision, and water problems in the daily lives of the factory workers through a savings plan offered by the factory. This strong partnership between CES Haiti, the Levi Strauss Foundation, and Codevi demonstrates the influence of the textile industry and how a factory can be a powerful catalyst for positive change in the community.

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Graduates of the Financial Literacy Course in 2014

As a finalist, CES Haiti was invited to the Fabric of Change Summit in Copenhagen in May, where the top 3 winners will be announced. The winners will be given financial support to scale their projects. Here is a link the the contest.

https://www.changemakers.com/fabricofchange

Check out CES Haiti’s initiative here, and please cross your fingers for SolKomYo as the winners are announced!

https://www.changemakers.com/fabricofchange/entries/worker-well-being

Northward expansion of the Community Entrepreneurship Project

At the end the month of August 2015, the leadership of Solkomyo signed a partnership agreement with the Haitian branch of Medical Ambassadors International (also known as AMDH) , which defined how both institutions would to start implementing together our technology access program in new areas. Thanks to AMDH’s expertise in supporting different communities across the Northern Department of Haiti, particularly the area in and around the city of Cap Haitian, Solkomyo would like to give access to vital technologies and products to a new section of the Haitian population that lacks access to electricity and is highly reliant on light sources such as kerosene.

With the emergence of a new group of community entrepreneurs, we want to equip one group of men and women to break the cycle of poverty for their own families and the beneficiaries of their sales. Initially, we will be adding the following places to our list of operating areas: the city of Cap-Haitien, Acul-du Nord, Laplany, Plaine-Du–Nord, Bayeux, Limbe, Port-Magot (Novion), Minière , Limbe (Camp Cop) and La Victoire.  On Saturday, September 5th 2015, the new community entrepreneurs, who had been recommended by AMDH, had the opportunity to see and learn how to use many technologies and product that Solkomyo sells in the community. This means that the guests learnt, among other things, how the solar lamps could save money for the user, and reduce fire and pollution hazards. During that meeting, which was organized in the office of Solkomyo in Ouanaminthe, the new team was also trained on how to put into practice the Micro Consignment Model.

Finally, we especially thank the all participants for their enthusiastic participation and generous sharing of their time and ideas.

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Antonio Vixama (General Coordinator) , contributing to the training of the new community entrepreneurs.

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Elizabeth Atilus (Regional Coordinator) giving her input during the training of the new community entrepreneurs.

 

Looking at challenges with new eyes

During this last month Solisyon Kominote Yo has been working in Ouanaminthe and the surrounding communities to provide people access to eye checks. Thanks to the SVOne a smartphone-based autorefractor developed by Smart Vision Labs we were able to test more than 200 people in 2 weeks. 

This revolutionary technology has also given us the opportunity to identify refractive errors like nearsightedness and to offer life changing solutions, such as eyeglasses in a dignified and economical way. Normally to access vision health services and basic products, people in Ouanaminthe have to either travel great distances or cross the border to the Dominican Republic.

Solisyon Kominote Yo has addressed farsighted vision problems since 2012, but the innovative SVOne has provided us a tool that allow us to reach the most remote communities and to diagnose individuals that struggle to see clearly while looking in the distance. On November 20th, our local leadership Madalina Bouros and Estela Aragon hopped on the back of motorcycles (due to poor roads there are no buses) with Elizabeth and Ponpon, two community entrepreneurs from SolKomYo. Arriving at Mont-Oganisé, a community 50 minutes away from Ouanaminthe, the team set up at the local school as a base to provide eye exams and sell low-cost glasses not only to the school’s students, but also to adults.

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Over a four-hour period the team conducted 100 visual exams for people from four to eighty years old. Based on the readings of the SVOne they were able to provide 21 people with glasses appropriate to their needs for the first time in their lives. Ten people purchased their glasses on the spot for between $2.50 and $5.00 and 11 pairs of glasses were left on “layaway” at the school. We are especially proud of how the community entrepreneurs, using the SVOne device, played a fundamental role in improving the lives of Joseph, Judith, Gabriel, Fivel, and Milkins.

Joseph (age 16) visited the team and when they met him he was blinking and struggling to reach the normal long distance visual acuity level of 20/20. After being tested with the SVOne, Joseph tried on a pair of glasses appropriate to his need resulting in 20/20 vision. His new pair of glasses is waiting for his mother to pick up and pay for at the school. The revenue from this purchase will go to SolKomYo to purchase another pair of glasses, cover operational costs, and incentivize the local women entrepreneurs who supported this first campaign.

Judith (age 12), Gabriel (age 14), and Fivel (age 13), arrived in their school uniforms. Their teacher had let them out of class when she heard about the vision exams taking place since she knew they struggled with their eyesight. All three students were having problems seeing the board. Each student tried on their glasses, got to 20/20 visual acuity, and smiled from ear to ear. They chose frames they liked and they’ll be getting their new glasses soon.

15247744054_caccc179eb_zOur favorite story is that of Milkins (age 8). His teacher told the team about his struggle to perform well in the classroom because of his inability to see well. After administering the SVOne exam, the team was fitting Milkins with glasses, and everyone in the school surrounded him to see what was happening, calling him “the miracle.” He could see well for the first time in his life and his life had been improved in a matter of minutes. His teacher had him run home to get his mother, who showed up within 30 minutes and bought Milkins his glasses. Both mother and son left with a new sense of hope for what Milkins could achieve not only in school, but also in life.

Working together with local entrepreneurs, communities, organizations and social oriented manufactures and innovators to solve long-standing challenges is what Solisyon Kominote Yo is all about. Thanks to these relationships, new and old, November 2014 marks a milestone month in social impact and innovation.

Small solutions big impact! part 1. Water filters

A few months ago we visited the community of Bain de Laurance because we wanted to check in with the 2 CAF groups and our local AC’s Edvie and Regina. We were guided in this trip by our veteran Regional Coordinator Elizabeth Attilus, who was born in the community and is well known by all the neighbours. She welcomed us at her house and cooked a delicious  Haitian stew for us.

_DSC0206The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about Bain de Laurance is the road to get there. The community is relatively large and is located between visibly deforested mountains, a very common landscape in Haiti. The steep road to arrive there is more of a combination of yellow looking rocks with deep canals created by water in the ground. We were lucky that it didn’t rain, because when that happens the rocks are slippery and the motorcycles (the only vehicles able to conquer the road) are not able to climb or descent the hills. Naturally, the difficult access to the community makes the life there expensive and challenging. People need to walk miles to buy basic supplies and the products that are sold to them come at a very high price due to the difficult access. Here even the easiest tasks are hard, but they are mountain people, and are used to endure even more difficult times.

The second thing which I remember from this trip is the morning. Elizabeth’s house is located in the city center right across from the church, which gave me a very good view of the community life. Being at a high altitude, the temperature droped a lot during the night and when the morning came we woke up in a misty atmosphere where the sun was trying to find its way through the clouds. Once I stepped out of the house I noticed the large crowds of all ages with 5 gallons buckets, forming a line next to the well. Soon the water came and one by one they filled their buckets. With no effort they placed the heavy buckets on the top of their heads and headed back home on the tough road.

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As I could see for myself, access to water of any kind is extremely difficult, not to say to clean drinking water. If in Ouanaminthe it is easy to buy purified water, in Bain Laurance this option hardly exists. Nowadays, people who drink the water from the well may expose themselves to stomach related problems. But the situation is not as desperate as it was two years ago, when cholera stroke, favorized and spread due to poor sanitation and reduced access to clean drinking water. Once again this shows why our work is so important. A small solution such as a water filter can make the difference between life and death. Our community entrepreneurs make available to their communities the water filters, and by doing that their are making the life there a little bit easier. _DSC0213

Small solution big impact! part 2. Efficient cooking stoves

Cooking in Haiti is done mostly with charcoal in urban areas and with wood in rural ones. Excessive use of wood for cooking together with natural and other anthropic factors let to major deforestation. Which is leaving Haiti unprotected in front of natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, water scarcity and land slides. The soil is also consequently unable to retain water, which harms agriculture. Even though people realize the effects of deforestation they do not have many other options. They need to use either wood or charcoal which are expensive, damage their health and have negative impacts on the environment. In our studies, we identified that more than 30% of a family income is used to buy charcoal. To this vicious circle there are solutions such us reducing the use of charcoal and wool by using improved cooking stoves or introducing propane gas stoves.

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Improved cooking stoves are made out of more resistant materials and are engineered to retain heat. In this way, cooking is done in a more efficient way, reducing the consumption of charcoal and wood by 50%, depending on the model. The improved cooking stoves have a little door which is used to control the intensity of the fire (heat). By doing this the consumption of charcoal is reduced. Some stoves have a ceramic grill which is very efficient since the ceramic radiates heat, which otherwise would escape through the regular metal bars. Regulating the intensity of the fire and heat retention are functions which are almost impossible to accomplish with regular metal bars stove or the traditional cooking on the rocks._DSC0227

Gas stoves are very efficient because you can turn them off and on as needed, however propane gas is expensive, and refill stations are still developing in urban areas. At the same time people are not used to this type of cooking, creating a risk to missuse the propane tanks, which can lead to dramatic effects. Thereso, intensive programs of education need to be implemented in parallel with building the infrastructure.

We are currently providing access to two models of efficient cooking stoves. One has a ceramic grill and is produced locally; and the second one is produced by a Haitian company in Port au Prince. Both stoves reduce the consumption of charcoal by 50%, and can be used inside. Our community advisors are promoting both models and are teaching the communities about the advantages of using this improved stove. Women in particular respond positively but are usually skeptical at first. In order to be convinced, they need to see somebody using it or need to test it themselves.CIMG6531

In contrast to rural communities, the urban ones are more interested in adopting the gas stoves, which are seen as a cleaner and more dignified solution. As an organization we are exploring the introduction of gas stoves in urban communities and as always we keep listening to our communities’ needs!

Small solution big impact! Part 3. Solar lamps

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving a solar lamp means so much more than just a lamp. It is a simple solutions to an every day problem created by not having access to regular electricity or not having electricity at all. As any solution it is important to be adapted to the users’ needs such as: good service, resistance and multipurpose.

Why is this important?! Because buying this product is an investment, and if the product breaks rapidly, and there is no way or place to fix it, the investment becomes a loss. This is why providing good quality products and offering after sales service are key elements for us.

The benefits of solar lamps are multiple and include safety, health, savings and not the last: human dignity and empowerment. To understand better how a lamp changes Haitian lives everyday we want to share with you this impact example:

Without a solar lamp a family spends roughly $1.80  per week on kerosene and candles. With a solar lamp, the family spends 50 cents per week. A family saves $1.30 every week. The family buys the lamp from the local entrepreneur for $12.22.

In other words: 

The break-even point for the family is 9.4 weeks. Considering our products, which have a lifecycle of 2 years, the family has $122.98 in net savings.

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The minimum wage in Haiti is around $110 per month. Therefore, with just one solar lamp, a family can earn an additional monthly salary over the course of 2 years. A small solution, big impact!