Towards greater opportunities for rural Haitians

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New MEDA project targets women, youth for training, economic inclusion

Haiti is one of the most difficult countries in the world to do business.

Last year, the World Bank ranked the impoverished island nation 179th of 190 countries in terms of ease of doing business.

That’s nothing new, says Claude Clodomir, who heads up MEDA’s new ATTEINDRE project.

ATTEINDRE is a French word that means to attain. The project is a five year, $12 million effort funded by USAID and donations from MEDA supporters, focusing on economic growth activity tied to resilience.

“Haiti’s always been a very tough place” for business, said Clodomir. He had worked in Haiti for more than 11 years with the World Council of Credit Unions and CHF International prior to joining MEDA last September.

For the vulnerable people who are the focus of the ATTEINDRE effort, “regardless of how the country is doing, micro-enterprise activity doesn’t stop.”

A micro-enterprise is a business activity with one to three employees and annual revenue of less than $12,000 US

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Claude Clodomir heads up MEDA’s ATTEINDRE project in rural Haiti.

Three-quarters of the ATTEINDRE project’s outreach, 22,500 of the enterprises the project plans to work with, will be in the micro-enterprise space. Of the remainder, 15 per cent will be small companies with between three and 10 employees. Ten percent of efforts will be on medium to large-sized firms with more than 10 employees.

Big businesses are much more susceptible to instability, he said. “That group of women that has to sell a cow to market, they’re going to do it regardless.”

Even in a country plagued by political turmoil, where corruption and access to skilled labor are major bottlenecks, the micro-enterprises MEDA’s project will target still manage to function, because they have no other choice.

Micro-enterprises cannot afford to suspend their activities, so their need for credit and business support services will continue.

Gender bias is a huge barrier facing women. “That really is a reflection of the core of Haitian society and how it works.”

MEDA’s value add in the ATTEINDRE is gender and social inclusion, he said. “That’s the mountain we’re going to have to climb, to evangelize our partners to be much more aggressive at reducing exclusion.”

Reaching this goal will involve not only gender equity and social inclusion training, but financial incentives for partners to work with “clients who may not be as (financially) attractive as their normal baseline clients.”

“This project is serious about inclusion,” he said. It will focus on helping women and youth (aged 18-35) who have been excluded from the existing financial services ecosystem get greater access to financial and business development services.

Reaching that goal will involve both new products and services and reaching new markets through leveraging local capital.

As many as 70 per cent of the enterprises reached with be women-led.

Many projects target specific value chains at the outset. ATTEINDRE is taking a non-specific, exploratory approach. “It’s really, wide open, and that’s one of the best things about this program.”

Traditional USAID projects have focussed on agricultural value chains, commonly mango, coffee, and plantain. Not defining target sectors at the outset will allow the project to work with value chains that are “equally high in potential”, such as the artifact (local crafts) sector. “That’s a gem no one has looked at.”

Tourism and tour guides are also possibilities.

While agriculture accounts for 27 percent of GDP in Haiti, “there’s a whole lot (of other work) going on in the micro-enterprise area.”

ATTEINDRE will work with 15 or 16 partners over the next four years in connection with a projected $5 million grant fund.

Haiti’s Central Bank, Banque de la Republique de Haiti, has given its blessing to the project by signing a memorandum of understanding with MEDA. The agreement provides some authority and respect, as it is a sign that the ATTEINDRE efforts are in line with national priorities around inclusion, he said.

The project will target six rural areas where 30 per cent of the Haitian population live: two in the south, one in the centre and three in the north.

Employment in most Haitian agriculture value chains is largely female, but investments in enterprises run by women or youth are much lower than they could be.

Financial incentives will help financial institutions move into new markets, new areas and start “testing their products with people who are otherwise excluded.”

The challenge is finding the most investment-worthy clients among excluded populations and creating opportunities.

Most women involved in agriculture work in the retail side of business, not the more lucrative sectors such as processing. “We have to create the opportunities for women, to put them in the much more interesting parts of these value chains.”

In cocoa, of 10,000 farmers involved in a value chain, 2,000 will be male farmers, 500 will be male processors. “The rest will be women resellers. That’s the low-value, subsistence, day-to-day activity.”

Using incentives to move women into different parts of the value change is where a project can really make a difference.

Loan guarantees are not a primary part of proposed incentives. These do not tend to make a major impact in changing the long-term behavior of financial service providers, he said.

Creating new markets and providing opportunities for producers is a more sustainable way to make lasting change, he said. Business development support for artisans will be part of this process.

Facilitating export potential for items such as local crafts is key, “and that really comes with the partners that we choose.”

Natural fibres such as sisal are used to make lamps and household decorative items. These are in demand in the US as some sectors are trying to get away from use of synthetic fibres.

“Globally, people seek Haitian work.”

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