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A business solution to Haiti's poverty

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Haitian Richard Coles is a descendent of both the English and Africans. His family has owned land since the world's only successful slave revolution in 1803. He employs 3,000 people at his apparel-assembly plant, pays above-average wages, and provides on-site medical care.

Scores of men and women in long lines do the same work. It is hot, but I am the only one sweating. The combined noise of a thousand sewing machines makes the tin roof vibrate; the plant drones like a beehive.

Mr. Coles speculates that maybe 1,000 lives were saved the day of the earthquake just by being at work in his factory, instead of being unemployed and at home.

"The poor believe the elites were always together, but we weren't," he says. "We supported different politicians, different policies. Things have changed. We agree on one thing: We have failed the nation."

Jean Buteau gave me a tour of his mango processing plant. Haiti has the microclimates to grow over 140 varieties. His suppliers are small farmers, some of whose children attend two schools he built. He could export up to five times what he does now, but Haiti doesn't have the specialized infrastructure: multimodal transportation, refrigeration, or a world-class port.

He has just expanded his plant with help from the Soros Economic Development Fund. It has classrooms, a quality-control lab, and locker rooms with showers for workers. He plans to employ another 150 people this year, and produce a nutritious quick-frozen product for working Haitian families who could then buy it on the street.

"There are two types of people who buy their food every day," he says, "the rich who want it fresh, and the poor who only have enough money for today."

Olivier Barrau runs the Alternative Insurance Company. He built it to serve the well-to-do, as well as the 80 percent of Haitians who live on less than $2 a day. "We don't have a prevention culture in Haiti; and when you react, you are not efficient," he says. "People don't think of insurance for the poor, as if they have nothing to protect. But the goal of insurance is to make sure people can survive hardships."

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