Michael Carey, founder of Irish food investment business The Company of Food, chairs the board of the Soul of Haiti Foundation, aiming to foster change in Haiti through enterprise.
Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere - its economy is underdeveloped and continues to suffer major problems with infrastructure and education. In 2010, this impoverished country was hit by one of the most damaging earthquakes. It’s only an hour’s flight time from Miami, and to see a country in such desperate need so close to the wealth of the US just seems wrong.
In 2007, 43 Irish entrepreneurs visited Haiti as part of the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year (EOY) program. A few of us were “bitten by the Haitian bug” and we felt that, by applying our skills and resources as business leaders, we could make a difference. Around 10 EOY finalists came together to create the Soul of Haiti Foundation (SoH).
Following the devastating earthquake, we intensified our efforts. Some projects are purely humanitarian; others aim more directly at establishing livelihoods. All projects utilize the entrepreneurial skills and resources of the Irish EY entrepreneur community.
We visited a few locations with local business and community leaders, where the entrepreneurs identified specific projects that Haiti needed and that matched their expertise, resources and interests.
Michael Cullen, Chief Executive of the Beacon Medical Group, leads a project at an orphanage in Île à Vache, home to 75 children, a third of whom are disabled. We estimate that, through the wider community, this has had an impact on the lives of about 6,000 people.
A farm in the Christine Valley that employs 16 people and provides support and equipment to around 500 farming families has been set up by SoH’s Country Director Damien Meaney and Neil O’Leary, Chief Executive of ION Equity and food group Country Crest.
Steven Grant of Grant Engineering leads a project in the fishing village of Abacou, where we have built an enterprise center with refrigeration units, and provided solar-powered lighting and a fresh water well for the 800 inhabitants.
We support a former gang leader who has set up a bakery in a slum area of Port-au-Prince, where unemployment is at 85% and 27,000 people are living in tents, providing him with new professional equipment and expert skills training. He now employs a small team from the area and is committed to helping other local small bakers.
We’ve been able to establish new trade and investment links; an Irish coffee company has bought US$1m of Haitian coffee to date, and we have facilitated a US$1.2m investment by Irish entrepreneurs in a shopping center and Haiti’s first Irish bar.
It’s not just about being nice. Corporate social responsibility can be a very valuable tool for entrepreneurial businesses and helps to bring our entrepreneur community closer together. There are also huge opportunities for commercially viable investments that will help this country to start a new era.
I believe business has a positive social role to play in how the world evolves and, if anybody gets an opportunity to do something like this, they should grab it with both hands. I get 100 times more out of SoH than I put in, and I think the same applies to all the Irish entrepreneurs.