It was Haiti’s loss when a young Jean Conille and his family decided to up sticks and move to Canada in search of a better life. They found it. Jean was educated there, entered a juvenile entrepreneur awards programme at the age of just 15 – and started his first successful business there.
Over the years his business interests continue to grow until he had a commercial presence not alone in Canada but also in the United States, specifically Miami, and in the Dominican Republic. Why not Haiti? He was a regular visitor, he recalls – but he never really felt Haiti was “open for business”.
That attitude changed dramatically, however, when Conille himself experienced the terrible earthquake of 2010 and was moved to think about how he could help rebuild the country. A key problem, he saw, was deforestation, which left the infrastructure badly exposed to violent weather.
So Conille founded a new company named Gazel, determined to replace the widespread burning of charcoal for domestic purposes with the use of subsidized propane. Having secured a licence to import it from the Dominican Republic, his twin strategies were to set up a distribution network that would reach the poorest, and then bring to the market affordable propane-burning stoves.
The project has been hugely successful. Gazel recently opened its own terminal in Port au Prince. Through its new subsidiary, Autogaz, it’s now focusing on the motor fuel sector, first taxis and “taptaps” and then public transport and private owners, with converter kits already on sale. With huge opportunities still for growth, Conille’s Haitian business already has a staff of 40.