U.S. Police Officers Have a Bit of a PR problem

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Central Square die in: Courtesy of Tim Pierce http://bit.ly/1wKsHDz

Central Square die in: Courtesy of Tim Pierce http://bit.ly/1wKsHDz

About a year ago, I wrote about how racism is still a relevant issue in recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Day. Never in a million years did I think that within the year, that there would be consistent protesting in places like New York and Missouri with a march scheduled next week in Washington D.C. that revives memories of the 1960’s.
In some ways, one could believe that these protests are completely spontaneous, that these protesters don’t have anything better to do but take to the streets. Protests and social movements don’t just happen, there is always a history of frustration and then, a motivating tipping point. In this case, Eric Garner’s grand jury ruling was that tipping point. While the debates have focused on institutional racism and the corrupt legal system, I firmly believe that what’s being addressed here is not an effort to right past wrongs, but a need to see each other as human beings instead of the agenda we seem to represent.
For example, I’m afraid of police officers. I know it’s silly, but on the rare occasions I’ve had to interact with one in the States, my hands get all sweaty, I can’t look them in the eye and I am just waiting for things to get out of control. When I first arrived in Haiti, I had similar feelings, but they usually inspired a panic mode reaction. Influenced by the horror stories of police officers conducting check points that led to kidnappings, I often avoided police officers at all costs. But, I eventually had to go through a checkpoint and when I did I contemplated the following actions:
        1) Speed past them before they knew what happened.
        2) Let the car roll slowly, jump out of it and run to the                       nearest house.
       3) Cry and pray that they’d leave me alone.
       4) Just go with the flow and see where things would go.
As the first three would only make a potentially non-threatening situation worse, I opted for #4. After the cop checked my papers, he smiled and I was on my merry way, still in my car, still with my wallet, and in my opinion, safe. Over time, I gained respect and didn’t fear the police officers but saw them as people doing their job to keep Haiti’s streets safe. Not to say that are always successful, but little by little they are changing their reputation.
Returning home, that fear has returned. With the ominous blue lights, the incredible variety of weaponry that police officers have on at all times, and the overall aggression associated with law enforcement. It just makes me wonder, how is it that one of the most dangerous islands has been able to build an approachable police force, and the “land of the free” now has a system of terror? These are just my observations, but what do you think? Is our system justified or are our police officers addressing a threat that’s not there?

How to Improve Access to Energy in Haiti One Finish Line at a Time

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A little while ago, I had the chance to meet up with a new friend Bradley Bulifant. This business management major from the University of Florida has had quite the adventure. From being a recording artist to managing large scale events to finally, developing The Solar Games; a mobile racing game aimed at supporting solar panel grids for rural villages in Haiti. But how does one go from majoring in business to launching a triple bottom line mobile app? By paying very close attention.

Bradley Bulifant of the Solar Games.

Bradley Bulifant of the Solar Games.

Once Bradley left his band, he went to work providing reconstruction solutions in the wake of national natural disasters, like Katrina in Louisiana and Charley in Florida. In between disasters, Bradley capitalized on the free time to pursue other projects. First, it was aiding the development of a sister city relationship between Gainesville, FL and Jacmel, Haiti as a response to the 2010 earthquake. Over time, Bradley became increasingly involved with all things Haiti with somewhat regular travel and interacting with the artisan community. When he was state-side he began to notice that apps and websites were making some serious money through ads and partnerships. Seeing the desperate need for energy paired with incredible revenues generated from mobile business, Bradley with some early members of Grooveshark began to pursue a mobile game that could connect a player to solving a social problem.

Since 2010, the development of the startup has faced many challenges. But the dominant issue, as it is for any startup, has been funding. Without a salaried team, Bradley has relied on help from friends and students who were looking for real world experience, and bit by laborious bit, the Solar Games is becoming a reality. Tapped to be a member of the Clinton Global Initiative with their commitment to action, Bradley’s work with the Solar Games is truly a disruptive way to funding development projects.

As any founder can attest to, you cannot come away from building something without a few nuggets of wisdom. In Bradley’s case, planning and goal setting have been crucial to his success. He urged that it doesn’t have to be a 50 page document, but rather a realistic timeline to keep the project on track. Developing a community to market your project too has to be included in that planning process. That community is what will help you during crowd funding, constructive feedback, and the marketing phases. In addition to community, having a solid pitch, and putting your ideas into concise wording will only help you refine what you are looking to achieve.

GoodXGames photo

GoodXGames photo

With the formal launch around the corner, Bradley and his team are racing to meet their goals. If you are nearly as excited about this game as I am, like their page on Facebook to keep up with the team and get an exclusive look at what goes into building this app.

Millennial Interview: Luxury Boutique Hotel owner in Haiti.

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When you first think of a hotel in Haiti, something like this might come to mind:

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Although similar places can be found, a visit to Haiti could land you somewhere like this:
Cafe36DiningRoom

Starting a boutique hotel in a poverty stricken country takes serious guts, commitment, and a stockpile of patience. I found these qualities in Lorraine Hudicourt owner of La Lorraine, the most recent addition to Port-au-Prince’s luxury hotel scene. Lorraine’s laid back ambition and perfectionism boasts from every detail.

Beyond the open walkway encased in linen drapes, you will find the popular restaurant Cafe 36, where I met with Lorraine.  Every inch of decor adds a sense of privacy and a sense of protection from the harsh realities of living in Haiti. All of the daily stress melted away once I arrived at the dining area that provides a Caribbean urban oasis.

The after work crowd starts to settle in as a popular D.J. sets up his kit on the humble stage. I look around for Lorraine and catch her as she is attending to the needs of an ongoing conference and smoothly transitioning the dinner crowd to the happy hour that’s about to begin.

Nothing alters a plan quite like a 7.0 earthquake.With a crushing demand for hotels in the area, Lorraine stayed on to manage the hotel. Coincidentally, a parcel of land that Lorraine had dreamed about for years also came onto the market. With encouragement from her mother, Lorraine did the crazy, risky thing and bought the land to achieve her dream of owning a hotel.  After three years of negotiating, patience, and perseverance, La Lorraine opened her doors in November 2012.

After a little over a year, the wild success experienced by the hotel has encouraged Lorraine to think of how to improve and expand. Although being a millennial hasn’t been a challenge, what has been difficult has been finding quality employees. With a significant portion of the population unable to read or write, finding people who will at least meet expectations can be extremely difficult. But ask her about her big travel dreams, she laughs and responds with: “They are extinct, but I’m happy here.” As Lorraine has shown, life has a funny way of changing our plans, often for the better.

 

Sacrificing for the Balance

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Photo provided by Flickr and Pink Sherbet Photography
 
With the taking down of the decorations and repairing whatever damage was incurred from the holidays, comes the familiar call to action to improve yourself with a new job, a new life; a new everything! For someone who has recently embarked on trying something new in a huge way, this kind of sent me into questioning the merits of changing everything in your life at a time that boasts the importance of tradition and things staying the same. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made the right choice in abandoning the privileges of First World life for to chase a dream that was providing more stress than that expected euphoric “I just mastered a this really cool trick” feeling. 

 

Then my friend Darrell Kinsel sent me this link to an NPR interview he was featured in and it hit me like a fatal coconut falling from the top of a tree: things are unbelievably difficult for our generation EVERY WHERE IN THE WORLD. Every one is making or has made incredible sacrifices just to nudge their careers forward, because that is what we have to do right now. Although we were promised this was going to be easy, and social media lets us portray our lives as flawless, beautiful and inspiring, there are an incredible amount of tears, self doubt, and drunken binges behind every story. Each person interviewed reminded the audience that our generation was handed an incredibly difficult hand and that things are going to take a lot longer to accomplish, but they can be accomplished. The shear optimism in every response was enough to get me to take a look around and realize that things are the way they are right now because they have to be, its an incredibly frustrating step on my path to go wherever I am supposed to be going. 

For me, I thought moving to Haiti would be easy since I have such strong family support and I’m was familiar with the country. I never dreamed that I would feel the void of the incredible friends that I left behind or come to expect the statement, we don’t have gas, desk planners, etc. because there’s a hold up somewhere in the supply chain. Though these things were unexpected, I know that I need the work experience and very few other places can offer it while I live with my grandmother and my uncle. This sacrifice is what I needed to do and it will pay off. In many ways, it already has. What have you sacrificed this past year so you can move your dream forward?

ECSSA: Turning Haiti’s Trash into an Economic Lifeline

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ECSSA Operation Center

When visiting Haiti as a child, I was always baffled at how the streets housed so much trash. It seemed like every side road had a mountain of garbage where just about anybody had to pick their way around. Many years later, though trash heaps still fight to claim areas where creeks or rivers once were, the roads are becoming cleaner and the cleanup has created hundreds of jobs that were not there before. How did Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, turn their massive trash problem into a treasure trove? One millennial, Edouard Carrie of Haiti, took on the challenge while studying entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa. As a student he asked the question: how can we employ local people while clearing the streets of Haiti? Well as they say, timing is everything and as Edouard was developing his business plan two key events took place: the devastating earthquake of January 2010 and an internship.

While the 300,000+ population of Port-au-Prince was stunned by the havoc left by the earthquake, Edouard immediately started crafting ways to help his country work its way out of the rubble. Initially, he considered cement recycling. There was so much rubble and it needed to be cleared before recovery efforts could be pursued. It proved to be too big and too complicated, especially with experienced companies already working in the area. That’s when Edouard started to look at recycling other materials, specifically plastic.

How It Started

With Haiti on his mind, Edouard networked his way to an internship at a recycling facility in Connecticut. As an intern, he interacted with leaders of the recycling industry who came to know about Edouard’s desire for recycling in Haiti. Moved by his determination, a mentor discounted his extra compactor to help bring Edouard’s dream to a reality. Paired with an old generator from his dad’s factory, Edouard had the machinery needed to found Environmental Cleaning Solutions S.A. (ECSSA). But, as any entrepreneur knows, getting the equipment was just the beginning of the challenge.

Post-earthquake Haiti was flooded with businesses, non-profits, governments, and individuals all trying to help with the effort; creating very confusing market conditions. Banks weren’t lending and donations were earmarked for immediate relief items like tents and water, not capital for aspiring businesses. Not to be deterred, ECSSA quilted together capital from international grants and other funding sources to open their doors in the fall of 2010. After opening day, it has been a roller coaster for ECSSA. Success has been celebrated by earning Entrepreneur of the Year Awards every year they have been in business from his alma mater, University of Tampa (2010, 2012) and mega cell phone provider in Haiti, Digicel (2011). Challenges have arisen in the form of accessing equipment and handling supply. Through it all Edouard has built a social venture in a very risky market and made an impact in his community.

Nuts and Bolts

ECSSA aspires to do three things:

1) Eliminate waste in Haiti

2) Teach the Haitian community the value of waste

3) Educate the community about the importance of recycling

To achieve these goals ECSSA has developed a process where collection centers around the country weigh and pay those who bring in a variety of plastics and aluminum. Then the supply is sorted, processed, compacted into bales, and then shipped to international buyers.  ECSSA covers the transportation of the material as well as the collection bags to encourage as much participation as possible.

Such a logistics heavy operation requires the help of a dedicated staff. In Edouard’s case, the help of an assistant and his family are doing everything from logistics to keeping up the motivation despite the various challenges that arise in Haiti. Going forward Edouard is leading ECSSA as the largest plastic collector in the country and has learned a couple of life lessons. So what is Edouard’s biggest piece of advice? “Luck is a huge part of starting a business, but you have to go out and create your luck. Don’t get discouraged, because there will be good times as well as bad, but as long as you focus.”

If you want to learn more about ECSSA and the work they are doing in Haiti check out their website at: www.ecssahaiti.com.