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Social businesses may provide a creative new way to help Haiti

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Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Schoolchildren wait in line for the beginning of their class in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Only half the children in Haiti start school, and just 1 percent complete their education through the secondary level. Social businesses may provide a way to raise funds to support schools in Haiti.

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Children dressed in school uniforms sit in rows listening to one of their classmates sing a song while snacks are passed around. Two years ago, before a devastating earthquake struck the island, they were in a different location in a building that has since been demolished on a nearby plot of land here in Léogâne, Haiti.

Now these youngsters and their families are getting another chance with the help of an innovative antipoverty effort that combines business tactics with social goals.

Such new approaches are much needed in Haiti. Even before a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the country in 2010, it faced profound structural issues: ineffective government, widespread poverty, and little educational opportunity.

Only half the children in Haiti actually start school, and just 1 percent complete their education through the secondary level. One of the biggest obstacles is the cost, since public education is not the norm and the average family lives on less than $2 a day.

At the Henri Christophe School in Léogâne, the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, paying the costs of administrators, teachers, teacher training, school uniforms, and facilities falls largely to charities or to families of the students, many of whom lost loved ones and their livelihoods in the earthquake.

On a recent trip to Haiti, I watched how Haiti Partners, a nonprofit group, supports the Henri Christophe School and six other schools in Haiti with money and training programs. This year, it has forged a partnership with the Grameen Creative Lab to help these seven schools create a more sustainable source of revenue than charity or family tuition payments: They are creating social businesses that will create money to cover education costs.

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