ENTREPRENEUR AWARDS SHOW POSITIVE TRENDS EMERGING IN HAITIAN ENTERPRISE CULTURE
FIFTY of Haiti’s most innovative business people are to compete for the title of Digicel Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 in a competition whose theme this year is knowledge transfer, where hard-won corporate know-how is gathered and shared – giving those who use it a valuable competitive edge.
What’s particularly interesting about this year’s competition is that 32 of the 50 businesses run by the regional finalists – fully 65 percent – have been founded since the earthquake of 2010, often by Haitians abroad who returned to help with relief work and stayed to contribute long term.
But they weren’t the only ones inspired by the disaster to help rebuild the country’s economy. There are moving stories of how young Haitians seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to drive change, and others of how non-nationals came to help and fell in love with the country and its people.
What’s inspiring too is the large number of female entrepreneurs – 19 of the final 50 – competing for the title, a reflection of the central role played by women in Haitian society and, increasingly, in the business community which underpins its social and economic foundations.
“It is gratifying that in this eighth year of the entrepreneur programme we’re are beginning to see these positive trends emerge, illustrating the impact the awards have had and the wider change that’s going on behind the individual stories”, says Maarten Boute, Chairman of Digicel Haiti.
“Both the involvement of more women and the creative input of the Haiti diaspora are best seen as part of the continuing transformation of Haitian society into one that is fueled by a modern culture of enterprise, risk taking, and innovation.”
That was why knowledge transfer had been such an important theme this year, added Mr. Denis O’Brien, Chairman, Digicel Group.
“Done well, knowledge transfer has enormous benefits. Within enterprise, it leads to aggressively joined-up thinking from concept to marketplace. And where entrepreneurs meet to network, it supercharges their natural ability to innovate …
“We see it when government institutions learn from the private sector or when private enterprise is inspired by academic insight. But the key thing is that it’s a ‘contact sport’. It’s about people and how they react – about doing rather than theorizing.”
The awards aim to identify, reward and cultivate up-and-coming business people whose initiative can support Haiti’s economic foundations. They look for seven key qualities: business competence, leadership, transparency, vision, creativity, environmental awareness and ingenuity.
There are five categories with 10 regional finalists chosen from each: agriculture and environment, construction, industry, services, and emerging, giving a huge range of businesses an enviable opportunity to showcase their products and services and the entrepreneurial flair of their founders.
Those 50 regional contenders will then be reduced to just 25 national finalists – whose names will be announced at a ceremony on October 28.
The stories behind the individual entrants are as inspiring this year as ever, with striking examples of how technological change constantly drives the type of offerings companies make, from food processing to construction.
New business segments are being identified and mined, for instance, in medical solutions. At the same time, a growing number of companies, having developed at home, are forming overseas partnerships, forging international supply chains, and becoming much more export-orientated.
Those stories will feature in a five-part TV series on national television – one programme focusing on each category – in which the finalists will tell their own personal stories and paint a pen picture of their businesses, culminating in a special broadcast from the national finals in December.
Another familiar feature this year is the executive education programme, where finalists have an opportunity to learn in a high-pressure incubator environment, coached by experts in the business field. The theme, of course, will be knowledge transfer, and it will be facilitated by Sofhides.
This year’s Digicel Entrepreneur of the Year is run in partnership with CFI, and supported by both IDB and Sofhides.