September is always a busy time in the life of The Sustainability Platform, with the Hult Prize finals and Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting (more on that in the next post), but this September takes the cake. We were invited by our very dear friend and colleague Christine Souffrant to join her in Haiti for a ten-day pilot for her new venture, Vendedy. Vendedy is a global on-line platform that aims provide street artisans from around the world with a marketplace for their products, cutting out the middleman and allowing the street artisans to see the true value of their product. A daughter of street vendors herself, Christine knows the importance of empowering them and we could not pass on the opportunity to be a part of it all.
The pilot took place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital still recovering from the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2010. The five-member team had a seemingly simple task: to gather as much data as possible on the street vendors and record their stories, giving them an opportunity to present themselves and their art to the world. Everyone who has ever worked in the development sector knows that things that look simple enough on the paper often turn into a logistical nightmare once on ground, and we were not the exception from that rule.
Haiti is in a complete state of NGO fatigue, which is completely understandable given what the last five years looked like. People are tired of foreigners coming in and promising change, only to leave when the funding runs out or a new disaster happens. Gaining the trust of the local community is the most important thing any new social enterprise has to do, and also the most rewarding. The single most important thing we did during the pilot was finding a way to engage with the local community and getting not only their support, but also their commitment to the project so that we can integrate them into the business model. After that, everything went a lot more smoothly; artisans opened up, the data we gathered was very high level and the stories we recorded are invaluable.
The Sustainability Platform went in as the social impact measurement partner and as such we focused on developing a set of metrics that Vendedy can use not only in Haiti but in other geographies as well. They include the increase in disposable income and quality of life, but also “soft” criteria, like the increase in self worth and levels of happiness. We believe that social enterprises need to see the bigger picture and look for answers to the most difficult questions, not shy away from them because they are hard to measure. This reinforces the purpose behind the business and allows for a high level of credibility when scaling up to different regions.
Our Haiti experience taught us so much about the resilience of human spirit and the beauty that can be found around us, but even more about our own work. Learning by doing is the only way to grow, especially in challenging environments such as this one, and we can honestly say that is one of our finest works up to date.
For more information about Vendedy and the pilot team please visit: http://vendedy.com/