3 years and counting

3 years ago we did our first steps in Haiti and today is a moment in which we need to take a step back and think of what we accomplished, the lessons we learned, the friends we made and at the same time find our motivation to continue innovating and building programs for the people of Haiti.

We started as OSIIC – Ouanaminthe Social Impact and Innovation Consortium with the support of Ashoka and IFC and soon we became Solisyon Kominote Yo, a social enterprise owned and run by Haitians. We worked and learned hand in hand with the people of Haiti and many times we came together with solutions to everyday challenges with a good joke and a smile on our faces.

We spent nights at the light of gas lamps and candles and we felt proud each time we sow one of our solar lamps in use, we did eye exams and we helped elders and youth see better, we built programs and organized community meetings all over North East Haiti for agriculture and saving groups, we talked to women about their daily challenges, to youth about their dreams and to textile workers about building a better future.  But we also danced to kompa, drank coffee, ate mango, had incursions in Haiti’s history on the back of donkeys, and took baths in Haiti’s blue waters while eating pwa ak diri.

All this helped us arrive where we are today. In three years of activity we created an economic impact of over US$1 million and impacted over 35,000 people.  We are optimistic about the future because we have an empowered local team happy to do more for their people and provide small solutions to everyday problems.

All this was possible through the support of our local and international partners such as Levi Strauss Foundation, International Finance Corporation, Warby Parker, Ashoka, CODEVI and many others.

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Spreading the word about our work in Haiti

DSC_0965On 10 and 11 of March our team member Madalina Bouros participated at HERproject Convening in Hong Kong. The meeting was focused on how to effectively develop and implement financial capability programs in the workplace and successfully bring them to scale.  The Convening was organized by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and at the meeting were invited representatives of BSR, NGO’s and companies dedicated to build financial inclusion in the supply chain.

We were invited to speak during a panel focused on Implementing Programs along Global Supply Chains together with representatives from Swasti, Luen Thai Philippines  and BSR. The panel was focused on what are the best practices on implementing work place programs and how to build a business case for employers.

During the panel discussions we presented the work of Community Enterprise Solutions with focused on the two programs we jointly implemented with CODEVI, a textile factory in Haiti, with the support of Levi Strauss Foundation: Technologies for Textile Workers and Family Wellness Financial Literacy, Matched Savings and Voucher Program. We emphasized that the key elements which led to our success were:  establishing guiding principles from the beginning, listening to stakeholders needs, wants and limitations as well as being flexible and having an entrepreneurial approach.   We received interesting questions from the audience as well as from the other members in the panel. It was an entire debate on how to engage employers into CSR programs and what works and what doesn’t when implementing this type of programs.

Overall it gave us a great exposure and learning opportunities from other organization doing similar work to ours around the world. We hope that in the future we will start replicate factories programs around the world.

BSR works with its global network of more than 250 member companies to build a just and sustainable world. From its offices in Asia, Europe, and North and South America, BSR develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consultingresearch, and cross-sector collaboration

Luen Thai is a leading consumer goods supply chain group, a global industry consolidator and multi-product expert in apparel and accessories.

Swasti’s is an NGO who’s belief is that true advancement and development of communities can be achieved only through empowering them, especially women.

Looking Back At 2014 and Looking Forward To 2015

Everyone working in development wants to know what difference their work is really making.  At Solisyon Kominote Yo we ask our selves this question in different ways. We ask our selves how the main needs of our communities evolve. How’s the money we invest in our projects helping those who need it most and how can we and our staff do things better.

As we approach the end of 2014, we want to paint a picture to our readers of all the accomplishments we have achieved during this year, of all the people we worked with and specially the people we worked for.

10671382_712180075513928_6254570871159259434_nDuring 2014, we were able to establish a locally owned and run social enterprise that we called Solisyon Kominote Yo. And SolKomYo is now the platform from which our local staff is leading a large part of the projects initiated by CES in Haiti.

10635898_711059035626032_6470812898154845155_nThanks to our collaboration with CODEVI –a textile company in Ouanaminthe- and thanks to the work of our local entrepreneurs we have sold more than 6,000 products including solar lamps, water filters and improved cook stoves. We have provided more than 26,500 people with access to these life-changing technologies. This year we have had a net economic impact of US$ 785,000.

DSCN3350We designed and implemented a Financial literacy and matched savings program trough which we trained over 750 textile workers to better track and manage their expenses.

_DSC0064With our CAF program, we supported the creation and coordination of 15 self-funded community banks, that all together have distributed more than $33,000 in total cumulative credit through savings.

10847954_744086292323306_3027568714669326472_nFinally, we supported 5 youth groups to develop their initiatives in agriculture with our Urban Agriculture Competition for Youth. We pretend to replicate the winning projects with the aim to help Ouanaminthe’s households on becoming food independent. 

Looking back to 2014, if we look at the numbers and we ask our selves whether our work is really making any difference, the answer is yes. What might be more important, though is that behind these numbers there are stories of people striving to build a better future. We can’t be nothing but thankful with those who have decided to be part of this story. And it is not over, in a joint effort with the communities and our partners we will keep working hard to bringing locally scalable solutions to Ouanaminthe.

We won 1st place – Levi Strauss Foundation – Community Vote ’14

lsf_red_stacked_jpgWe want to share with you the exciting news that our work was voted number one by the Levi Strauss Foundation and LS&Co. during it’s Community Vote 2014. The competition is putting  employees of Levi’s in the position to chose to whom to award a $100,000 grand divided among three LSF community partners.

The foundation supports our work in Haiti and other organizations and community leaders from around the world working in the area of  HIV/AIDS prevention and human rights efforts to improving the lives of apparel workers in our supply chain to helping low-income families save for their future.

This year’s Community Vote first-prize winner was Community Enterprise Solutions (CES). Based near the CODEVI industrial park in Haiti, where LS&Co. manufactures products, CES is increasing knowledge of financial topics among workers and the community and provides access to cost-saving tools — such as solar-powered lamps, water filters and clean cook-stoves. Additionally, many workers are receiving incentives and opportunities to save through a factory-sponsored matched savings program.

This innovative project is part of LS&Co.’s Improving Workers Well-Being initiative, and powerfully illustrates how collaborative partnerships between brands, suppliers and local partners can help to improve the lives of the people who make our products. For its first-place finish, CES will receive a $50,000 grant.

We feel honored to be among the organizations nominated and winning the first place!  This reinforces that our work is valuable and needed. Together with LSF we will continue to  create positive change in Haitian communities. Thank you!

Sharing our progress and vision with IFC Vice-President

Untitled-1On July 30th 2014, CODEVI industrial park was visited by Jean Philippe Prosper Vice-President of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) for Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean and Haiti Minister of Finance Marie Carmelle Jean-Marie. The visit focused on highlighting the impact CODEVI has had on its workers and the community at large. And also how the local government, together with CODEVI and IFC, can work together to create more jobs and impact in Ouanaminthe area.

During the visit we were invited to  participate and present our initiative in Haiti in general and our collaboration with CODEVI in particular.

The visit was part of Mr. Prosper’s three days trip to Haiti which included multiple meetings with the local government representatives and business focused on IFC support and improving the business climate. “I was back in Haiti after two years, and I am very pleased to see the progress. Our customers have a direct impact on job creation and provide opportunities for people to improve their living conditions […] IFC grows in Haiti and in its assets. This year, we intend to double our portfolio in the country in manufacturing, infrastructure and financial sectors. We also hope to work in the field of agro-industry to support the livelihoods of rural communities, where poverty remains high,” declared Jean Philippe Prosper in an interview for Haiti Libre.

Scaling community savings banks (CAF’s)

Over the past 18 months Solisyon Kominote Yo formed 14 savings groups (CAF’s) which include over 300 individuals in communities around Ouanaminthe including Bois de Laurance, Caris, Mont-Organize, Savanette, Dousmon and Hout Madeline. CAF’s  are community banks self managed and self financed by it’s members. In other words the group acts as small independent bank financed and managed by its members. The groups have on average between 15 to 30 members and their key to success is TRUST.

In Haiti very few people have access to formal banks, and when they need to save or borrow money they there are not many places where they can go to, especially in the countryside. In many remote rural communities moneylenders who charge from 25% to 50% interest are the only way to take a loan. To this problem CAF groups are a very simple and rapid solutions. To start and run a CAF is needed only few hours of training after which the group is ready to start saving. At the beginning the members are establishing the rules which by in large include: the value of interest rate, value of late fees, shares values, meeting day etc.

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During the meetings some members save money, others pay back their loans, when others are taking loans. The loans are usually invested in small businesses (mom and pap stores), paying for children’s education, health care emergencies and agriculture. The opportunity of saving and borrowing is creating economic and financial stability for the members, their families and the community at large. Taking a loan involves paying interests based on an interest rate that varies from 2% to 5% usually. This creates a surplus of money in the specific CAF, which is divided among the members at the end of the year. In this way CAF members feel that even though they pay an interest, this money will get back to them directly, because it stays within the community. This contrasts with finance institutions.

The majority of CAF members are women (70%) but there are males as well. The meeting takes place once a month usually during the weekend, let’s say on the first Sunday of every month, a date easy to remember. The meeting is not only a “trip to the bank” but also an opportunity for networking and escaping the everyday routine.

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Another important value of CAF’s is “community spirit”. All the members know each other very well and they are aware that only together they can advance. This is reflected in the names they give to the groups such as “All together”, “Solidarity”, “Light for life”, “Hope”, etc. As an example in September / October all the members need money to send their kids to school, buy uniforms, pay school fees and school supplies, however they know that the money they saved are not enough for everybody. For this reason they came up with a plan so that everybody can take a loan starting gradually from June. Once again this is a proof that grassroots activities, together with collective efforts and understanding, are the key to advancement and progress.

Till this moment the groups pulled together US$ 6,000 in savings, which allowed the members to take up to 700 loans which have a cumulative value of US$ 20,000.

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