Recognizing the implications of these challenges, NRG and its partners, Blue Marble Dreams and Haiti 155, commit to building Bèl Rèv, a unique ice cream social enterprise that will bring positive development to the Fontamara community by: 1) creating sustainable jobs for women and a variety of local contractors, 2) generating sustainable economic activity by supporting area farmers, producers, and vendors, and 3) providing a safe and vibrant space for people to gather.
The staff of Bèl Rèv will be comprised of 11-13 members of KOFAVIV, a Port-au-Prince-based organization dedicated to supporting survivors of sexual violence. Through training in business finance and operations attended by 30+ members these women are being nurtured into capable, confident professionals.
This commitment also stimulates commerce more broadly by building a sustainable food business that sources products from Haitian farmers and producers (i.e. milk, fruits, eggs, coffee, and cocoa), engages area tradespeople and otherwise helps to support the economy and vitality of the Fontamara community. Beyond the direct staff, the business will employ roughly 8-10 part-time workers, including builders, security guards, and drivers. To further engage and enrich its community, Bèl Rèv will also offer a range of creative and educational programming, such as computer and English trainings, art classes, and health workshops.
NRGs charitable efforts in Haiti focus on improving opportunities within the depressed local business landscape, made possible in part by providing low-emission renewable energy to sustainable social enterprises. Bèl Rèv will be constructed from upcycled shipping containers and powered by a microgrid energy system composed of 8.5 kW of solar panels, 19 kWh of battery storage, a 10 kW backup generator, and the necessary control system to optimize the system. This microgrid will allow Bèl Rèv to operate during power outages from the local grid, ensuring seamless functionality.
Over the past several months, Blue Marble conducted ongoing business finance and administration training with KOFAVIV members, culminating in the selection of the starting staff lineup. NRG shipped three containers to a fabrication location (Houston, TX), completed the fabrication of these containers, and packed a fourth container holding supplies and a generator. The partners initiated the local site preparation (construction work, plumbing, septic, etc.), which will continue through November/December 2015.
Approval of Franchise and local paperwork in Haiti: September 2015
Containers are shipped to Miami and leave for Haiti: October 2015
Arrival of containers in Haiti and Installation: October/November 2015
Operational training for staff: November/December 2015
Grand Opening of Bèl Rèv: January 2016
There are numerous pervasive challenges to safe, stable employment in Haiti, particularly among women. These challenges include limited employment opportunities, vulnerability among women and the absence of English language proficiency.
First, there is a lack of safe, sustainable jobs that offer substantial opportunity for professional and personal growth. Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world. As of 2012, according to the World Bank, an estimated 59% Haitians lived under the national poverty line of $2.44 per day and 24% live under the national extreme poverty line of $1.24 dollar per day. Because there is so little private sector development in Haiti, employment opportunities are largely informal, unstable, and do not offer a sustainable and livable income.
Second, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation are pervasive problems in Haiti, exacerbated by poverty, poor security, and a lack of awareness. Many Haitian women are not able to complete their schooling and UNICEF estimates that only 29% of female Haitian students enroll in secondary school, which blocks their access to stable jobs and perpetuates their economic and physical vulnerability.
And third, English language proficiency among low- and middle-income Haitians is very limited. This constrains their ability to understand and engage with visitors and the outside world in general and alienates them from many formal employment opportunities.
Fontamara, the location of this commitments focus, is a particularly disadvantaged and neglected community within Port-au-Prince. Official public data on its population is not readily available, but informal estimates indicate a population of approximately 250,000. There are very few formal businesses in the area, quality of life indicators such as housing and sanitation are very poor and criminal/gang activity is reportedly common.