In Haiti, a neighbourhood converts ideas into innovation and opportunities
26 May 2015 by Rita Sciarra, Head of the Poverty Reduction Unit, UNDP Haiti
In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their experiences and views on innovation in development practice.
Fort National is a very poor and dangerous neighbourhood of Puerto Príncipe, a neighbourhood identified with high crime rates, violence, and large numbers of weapons. The mere mention of its name sets off alarm bells, warning you "Do not enter".
For five years UNDP, Haiti has been a following a comprehensive approach to development in Fort National; initially, with the Debris Management Programme, where debris from the earthquake was removed, recycled and reused; and later in the rehabilitation phase with the 16/6 Project, which encourages the return of displaced persons to their neighbourhoods and works to create jobs.
We have been working hard at the community level. Through community mobilization, we have earned the trust of the people of this neighbourhood, which was not easy to achieve. We were thus able to work there, listen to them, and engage in ongoing dialogue. Since we have come this far, why not continue our work there, where the unemployment rate is so high that it is frightening? We wondered – why not give voice to the ideas of the young people of this neighbourhood?
Thanks to UNDP’s attention to innovation and supported by the Innovation Facility, we have begun a pilot initiative to give youth the opportunity to start their own businesses. We decided that we would bring innovation to Fort National and came up with a LIDE Bus: Lidé means idea in Creole and is also a French acronym for "Laboratory for Innovation and Economic Development". We started by taking the bus around the neighbourhood, talking to over 300 young people about entrepreneurship and encouraging them to say, “Yes. It’s possible.” We started with the training of all 300, giving additional business training to 80 who showed the most interest.
Based on the knowledge acquired, these young people presented their business plan proposals for funding. There were proposals to develop businesses for organic chocolates, electronics and computer services, a library, a restaurant serving Creole food, and the production of perfumes based on plants native to Haiti. Forty initiatives were selected, and with an initial capital of US$500 to $1,500, they could start their company and receive technical support in implementing their business to reduce risk.
At the event announcing the 40 winning proposals, one of the winners said that he had always been classified as a youth coming from a neighbourhood where it is best not to set foot in. However, this was an opportunity where he could be present without this stigma, proving that a different Fort National is possible. That the simple fact of having had an opportunity and someone who believed in him matters a great deal, perhaps makes a world of difference.
Will we succeed?
When I walk around Fort National, at times I ask myself if we will be successful? Will we be able to set up these 40 companies in Fort National? Will we have more entrepreneurs and less unemployed? I don’t know, but seeing the enthusiasm of these young people, I realize that in the end, what is really important in an initiative like this is the process and not so much the result.
The initiative has made it possible to listen to people whom no one ever listens to, including those who have always been systematically excluded. It gives hope to those who are surrounded by shootings and misery, and to build self-esteem in those who have thought of themselves as worthless. Yes, in this sense, the process is more important than the result, because in the process, qualities have been built that cannot be bought, such as dignity, self-esteem and values.