Donald Diogène was at home in Haiti on holiday from university in the US in September 2008 when Tropical Cyclone Anne struck – devastating his home town of Gonaïves and dealing a severe economic blow to his parents, who were funding his education abroad.
His parents insisted that he should continue with his studies, and so overwhelmed was he by their generosity and determination to put his welfare first that he decided in his own mind what when he graduated he would return and set up a business in Haiti – to pay his dues.
That moment came in 2009. Sure enough, Diogène took some of the money his father had set aside for him to do his MBA, and, in partnership with his brother, decided to invest it in starting Lama Cosmetics – in tribute to his father named Lamartine, who himself had owned a business named Lama Fabrics.
Lama Cosmetics had a shaky start. With four staff on standby, customers came and looked but didn’t buy. Diogène came to the conclusion that it was because his range was too limited, and he was right. To soaps, creams and lipsticks, he added perfumes, lotions, skin care and beauty products – and the shop began to look a more attractive proposition.
As an added inducement, Diogène then added “Financial Lama” offering mobile cash transfer services with Western Union, UniTransfert, Cam Transfert, and later adding Mon Cash (Digicel), Lajan Cash (BNC), and Unibank Tout Kote (UBTK)– and allowing Lama Cosmetics to reach out to customers around the country who might never otherwise have been able to pamper themselves.