People and Community

Helping young entrepreneurs in Haiti

MarieGuerda Nicolas, a professor in the School of Education and Human Development, is working with local groups to train hundreds of young women in Cap-Haïtien.
MarieGuerda Nicolas, second from right, worked with local organizations in Haiti to host a workshop that taught young women new skills to boost their individual businesses. Photo courtesy MarieGuerda Nicolas

In the northern part of Haiti, in the historic city of Cap-Haïtien—a lively tourist destination miles away from the troubled capital of Port-au-Prince—a growing number of young people are becoming entrepreneurs, creating small businesses to help themselves and their families.

This prompted MarieGuerda Nicolas, professor in the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development, through her community organization Ayiti Community Trust, to host a workshop called “Empower Ayiti: Haitian Women Rising.” Joined by several local organizations, the workshop drew 85 young women to learn new skills to boost their individual businesses. 

“Women have always played a significant role in terms of economic viability in Haiti,” said Nicolas. “We have good data that shows that when women are able to thrive economically, the community thrives. Women do not just feed themselves, they feed everyone else around them.”  

More than 100 young women wanted to attend the workshop held last November, said Nicolas. But the workshop was capped at 100. The popularity of the workshop did not surprise Nicolas, since she said that although international news about Haiti always focuses on the gang violence in Port-au-Prince, many other areas of the country continue to grow. 

Nicolas has been working in Haiti, her homeland, for decades. Her work includes training teachers on how to detect and support students with mental health and trauma issues. 

For her continued work, Nicolas was honored as one of 50 amazing Haitian women making significant impact in Haiti by the Network of Model and Inspiring Haitian Women, in partnership with the Haitian Women's Initiative in Tourism. 

During the workshop, the girls were addressed by Bayyinah Bello, a historian with expertise in Haitian and Pan-African history. 

“Learn to know yourself so you may have better control of your intentions, emotions, words, or actions,” she shared. “With that you will develop your personal power or ability to make things go the way you want them to in your life.” 

They also heard from Solanges Vivens, a health care entrepreneur who has written several books including a seminal one called “Girls Can Move Mountains: Rewriting the Rules of Female Entrepreneurship.” Each participant received a copy of the book. 

“I was fortunate to have realized at a young age that life is comprised of a series of mountains that we must climb. How we tackle each mountain is how successful we can be in our journey. Our attitude plays a major role in achieving our goals,” Vivens told the group. 

During the day, the participants took part in exercises where they learned about building self-esteem, as well as how to use their personal traits and skills to enhance their individual companies, said Nicolas. The sessions also served as networking opportunities for the participants.      

Stecie Guerrier is the founder of the community organization “Entr’Elles pour l’Emancipation de la Femme Haitienne,” a nonprofit organization that provides job training for about 300 young women.

Twenty-five of the organization’s members attended the workshop. Guerrier said that by having their own small businesses the young women felt like they had gained a level of independence.

“When they have their own business, they can pay bills for the family or do something for themselves,” she said. “It is a kind of freedom for them.”

She said that listening to the speakers during the workshop gave the young ladies the “motivation to do something better for themselves.”    

Some of the small businesses the girls head include selling homemade peanut butter and providing party decorations, she said.

One other young woman started a business providing washing and ironing the clothing of tourists who visited Cap-Haïtien, said Nicolas.

“When she began two years ago, she had two people working for her,” said Nicolas. “Now she has 22 employees.”

The work with the entrepreneurs will continue in the following months, said Nicolas. In late February, Ayiti Community Trust will hold a workshop jointly with Halcyon, an investing group that recruits entrepreneurs, trains them in Washington, D.C., and provides them with seed money so they can boost their businesses. They also refer them to possible investors, said Nicolas.