What do you do for Full-time work?
I work at MIT in the Public Service Center, where I manage the social innovation programming as Assistant Dean there.
What is your passion project and how long has it been in existence?
I have a couple; one that I have sunsetted for a bit until the sunrises back up on it. And that one is an organization I founded more than 12 years ago in 2008. The name is Communities for Haitian Entrepreneurs and Startups. So I literally just halted our activities at the end of 2020. And up until then, I was, you know, running it part time, while working my full time gigs and keeping the lights on. And as far as at home, and in what we were doing, we were supporting rural entrepreneurship in Haiti, and particularly our work touched rural women, we went to different locations across the country, I wouldn't say that we had a huge scaled impact. But I'd say our impact is what I'd like to think of as more deep. So we touched about 200 people, over 60%, of whom were women of all ages, and educational levels. And it was such an honor, there were so many mighty people who've, you know, been the village around the whole organization. And it couldn't have been possible without them. And, and my life has been so enriched by serving in this way and serving alongside amazing people who've taught me so much. And it's working alongside the entrepreneurs who are my goodness, such inspiring people. And again, I learned so much from them.
What is your project’s origin story: Why did you start this project; what was the passion behind the project.
I was born in the US. I'm of Haitian descent, “nou la and sac passe,” anyway, and was born in the Cambridge area. My parents were always committed to returning home to Haiti, which is the reverse of most of the immigrant stories of most Haitian Americans. So they took us they not only decided to you know to return home and they didn't return home to like a you know like the capital Port-Au-Prince or some sort of more happening city like other folks who i've known that have done that reverse migration; they took us to a very rural part of northern haiti called; well I wouldn't say it's very rural but it's certainly a rural part of northern haiti called Lacoupe Limbe and this beautiful bucolic setting just lovely it was certainly culture shock it took a couple of years for us to and when i say us my siblings in the entire family to adjust but my goodness i had the most fun and learned what community really means and looks like in what like living a full life looks like even when you don't have a lot; a lot of our neighbors were you know often very poor and here i went from being working class kid in you know to borderline poor kid in the us to now we're in like more of the privileged family in a neighborhood and it was just the weirdest shift of public school to private school everything was different luckily we knew we knew how to speak the language and read and write the language that was something my dad insisted on so at least that felt a little bit more familiar but even like the food as you know it certainly some of the main meals like that i grew up eating haitian meals that i grew up eating in the in the us of course were familiar but i learned there was such a wide variety of even foods and flavors that i could have never imagined so while there my mom who is a nurse worked at a local missionary hospital where every morning there were you know hundreds of people waiting in you know after triage to that would sleep on the hospital grounds and maybe for a day or two until the doctor would see them because access to health care was such a you know it wasn't quite easy and and actually in us i think it's like over 50% of bankruptcies have to do with with catastrophic medical expenses so when you move that to a context of haiti where you know back then i don't think the poverty rate was even as bad as it is today which hurts my heart to say but when you've got like a population we're over 50% of the population in the country like right now the country is about 11 million people and over half of that that population is poor and and there's like a majority that are extremely poor so when you've got catastrophic any like sort of any sort of a you know need to visit the hospital when you're kind of subsistence li or you're in a subsistence survival mode that means a day away from whatever work you have to do to to feed the family when it's hand to mouth like that it is a huge burden so for example traveling to to a clinic that cost that's costly so if people are not seeing the same day they don't have funds necessarily to travel back and forth home and get back to work and then go back when the doctor calls them they don't have the safety net like we do here in the us where people may have access to private insurance through their employer or some you know maybe some past you know possible
kind of municipal or state insurance program people don't have that so to lay out that context my mom then often noticed that a lot of these folks were a lot of these folks had how do you say that like minor ailments that she is a nurse could could handle and so then on top of that it was like you know this is like opportunity plus you know that readiness and then plus the like luck in god you know so i don't know if i believe in luck but i certainly do believe in the divine that we were living in a home that a doctor built so the doctor had actually built a component in the house that where he had clinic services there and then i think there were you when you once troops that had inhabited that house as well before us and then there was us and we might have been the first black family that lived in that house and the then the neighbors started slowly trickling down to come get health care because they just assumed that the next the next occupants of the house would provide that it just happened to be that my mom was a nurse and so seeing that there was demand and then in the area with the neighbors coming and then seeing the triage like of hundreds of people just sitting on the grounds waiting to be seen she was like well i can you know on my off days she wasn't always she wasn't full time at the hospital she said i can start this clinic so she opened up this clinic called woozi clinic and she saw you know on average like 100 people a day for several years there and it was very affordable and my mom is this like lovely hearted person who's like i can't tell you like she has this light that shines like my mom's my mom's aura is just so beautiful and generous and she's been a nurse for 30 years and if a person is a nurse for 30 years that tells you a lot about them because you have to take care of people you do you know like you take care of people in the most intimate way and sometimes in ways that their own family in blood don't want to do and that's what my mom has been doing for so many years in the us and in the work in haiti so she this ended up being a huge source of income and revenue for the family that really needed it even though we were certainly privileged but we certainly had you know like we had income gaps that we had to fill to and my mom i wish that we had we had a save the formula but my mom used to mix this solve that was like an antibiotic so that she'd sell for like one in one buck 50 and the local currency so it was like the so that would be about sing sing good or something like that sing good or or or set good id me and yeah it was it was truly beautiful to see her doing that and then
I saw women's empowerment before i knew it was a thing i saw social venture and entrepreneur entrepreneurship before i knew it was a thing my mom trained a young high schooler who approached her one day from a neighboring town who said she had a dream of being a nurse and she wants to learn so she got hired as an intern also hired this partnered with this lady who a truly a lovely lovely fierce a woman who would carry around a bag like it was like a lunch bag that she kept cold so that with a lab like basic lab diagnostic stuff so she would be able to diagnose things like money malaria or typhoid and like even hiv like so like you know she she did quite a lot of she was able to conduct a lot of tests through her very simple kit and she just come out on certain days and then my mom ended up adding like a pharmacy to the clinic so
it served a lot and actually the interesting part it was where we were located it was a long hades one highway called wood nasional so we actually lived right on top of like a hill well or maybe it's more of a mountain and you can see the northern bay of acuter from there but it was also a super windy and dangerous road so unfortunately you know there were at least a couple of really major in bad accidents and and so it was a great thing for you know my mom to be situated the clinic to be situated where it was so that she could you know quickly help folks in need so no
w that's a long story but that backstory is the story that i stand on today and it's still a story that inspires me and just fills me with so much joy when i think that i had a chance to witness that and and while seeing my mom do what she did i was not very involved but i watched it all i'm not even knowing how inspired i was by it but i did notice that more often than not people who who were more vulnerable in the community we're not asking for charity but more for work so sometimes like my parents would hire extra folks around the house not that we needed them it was just to help them get up on their feet and have employment
so i became really inspired by that observation and and having like a really nice template from what i saw my mom too and and and so that's what made me decide to go into business i i was like okay i'm gonna come back to haiti start a business to to provide employment that was my dream went to business school i mean even looking at my college essays that's what i said i was gonna do yeah so that was always the purpose for me so after college and and even throughout college like i had a great college experience
I had a great professor and I always have to name her; we're still in touch Mary Lee. Professor Mary Lee is the lovely woman who taught me a lot about you different cultures and within different contexts she helped me to open up my eyes to the world and how women in the informal sector how they're supported so like i got introduced to micro finance i i then you know continued my study and etc so um after that you know after school.
By then my family had all returned to the us my dad had a political short lived political career that that kind of drained the family resources and we just couldn't live in haiti anymore so we return starting you know all over thanks to my mom in the south shore in brockton and so i spent a year in high school in brockton finishing up that degree and then was able to get to bentley college through an inroad scholarship and and then in so and i think i'm going jumping back a little bit too much but but but to go back to after bentley college
I wanted to start the business my my family had then left and they were like no, ou poukont ou," you're by yourself we don't want to send you alone, you're a young woman, this and that, so i was kind of like a little bit a guess ahead of the times for what i wanted to do and so in the end i respected the wishes of my parents but i was like i went to school for this so i gotta figure this out and so then i was like well i learned these practices let's see if i can help people who have are aspiring to have their own businesses in Haiti learn as well and i can share and and whatnot so that was the whole the whole story of how it started and started didn't look back worked with
we work with two community businesses in different parts of haiti and one is still getting off the ground now even though we've paused activity as chess i still follow the launch and it's
who starting up a business in haiti versus starting up a business here is just two different ball games it is the same and i've learned so much and i learned so so much about being humble and in listening really because you can easily think you know and and also we did trainings trainings were always you know quite easy to implement because those are more time bound and you plan them in advance etc and they tended to be trainings with either entities that were supporting a group long term and they asked us to come you know these organizations would have asked us to come to train the the population they were working with or we'd have different invitations so we never went really where we weren't invited
and so the first place we went was back to the place where we lived and and you know my mom went with me my mom had joined the board for like and my mom was on it for nine years and she doesn't play.
We were welcomed with open arms again by the community because my mom is just the rock star that she is so the talk about the businesses the first one was a community like a local kind of food store natural food store that was selling local foods in 2013 and you might wonder why why that the interesting thing is with usaid usaid had had some policy with the haitian government where the gup the haitian government had to agree to us aid selling very sub you know low price rice subsidized rice from the us to the Haitian market so that ended up basically killing the you know like the agriculture particularly the rice sector in haiti for the longest time like it's it's it went from 60% to like 30% and like a matter of several years and so by the time this this business got launched by a group of women in northern hating mostly they were one was like a college professor who was the start the founder and another one she was a student and another one i think she was studying nursing so it was a a group of really you know promising people and people who were educated and looking for opportunities and and couldn't necessarily you know get find the opportunity so they we worked with them on the business plan on launching the idea so we really like tried to like support them along the way and and again in their own rights they were amazing people and so like so you know so much credit is due to them and and and we so that you know essentially they had noticed this need for local people to access local foods and so in 2013 they got logic the business got launched survive through 2015 and in the end you know by then like the the supply chain was so unstable it was really hard for these women to to access the produce they needed to resell it was also difficult they faced gender discrimination challenges i also learned an interesting lesson where we had done like one of those you know like very american like marketing launch events where you know we sponsored it for them and we talked about what the organization was doing and how we help them and somehow word traveled around the community that they were rich and that you know like we were sending them like massive hoards of money or something like that and that was an unintended result of something we thought was going to be good for them for marketing it ended up being negative marketing it was painful to learn these lessons and to watch These ladies struggle and they had gotten a, a loan that was kind of forgivable from from us. And so, you know, to watch the business, you know, go and, like struggle and it because of largely forces that were outside of themselves. And,
and, and then but it also was such a beautiful business like people in the community really appreciated it. And they had they couldn't sell the goods in, like in, like, the prices that matched you know, American rice for example, or, or Dominican produce but they could at least package them in a way where they could sell them in small enough quantities that people could purchase. It was it was it kind of was more like a How do you say that like a gourmet sort of like whole foods like ish sort of purchase for people in the local community. They also, what they also did was it a big complaint that there was in the market is that to buy rice from the local market, like the Haitian rice, it was always full of rocks, and they would take so much time to clean and take the rocks and other debris out, which they did all that work. And we had a chance to survey the community afterward. And, and, and see what the, you know, what was the impact of this business, and, you know, like, we went to their customers, and their customers loved it, you know, like, the only the only the only feedback was the price was high, which was not something that they could really move much on. But, you know, like I, we even had people who, who were managing chronic diseases like diabetes, and seeing the difference in their health from eating the local produce, versus the subsidized produce, in making that switch. And so there's that in
The second business right now is a poultry farm in the southern part of Haiti. And that one has been a project that keeps on giving, giving lots of lessons and, and also lots of joy along the way. So and so early. 2017 Yeah, so. So basically, Hurricane Matthew hit a community in much of southern Haiti, you know, so that in 2012, was the earthquake, like the devastating earthquake, then, in 2010 2016, excuse me, four years later, after, it seems like the country's starting to, you know, get a little footing like there was cholera to that happen. And then, and then after that, you're like, Okay, we think, I think, you know, things are starting to look up, and then this, and this hurricane, hits Haiti, and, and I encourage listeners to get educated on climate injustice, and thinking and getting educated to on how we in, in, like, the western context, contribute to climate injustice, by the way we live, because places like Haiti get hit even more like the Caribbean, and other vulnerable places get hit even more, because of our consumption habits, habits. So and so just putting that in, you know, there for people to hopefully, you know, look up more and research more about it. So anyhow, now, most of the south of Haiti gets, like, wiped out. And, and by some accounts, it's even more devastating the earthquake because food that had been growing crops that were growing, you know, what was potential income is now gone. And, and so many people trying to figure out, like what to do now. And now, there was a gentleman who I had met through MIT actually at a previous role. And through the introduction of a professor there, who was working with him in a class, we stayed in touch and he reached out and he said, Look, the, you know, we've got lives decimated from homes, to crops, etc. The community needs something. Why don't you guys you know, like, why don't you guys see if you can help with helping us build like a more durable thing and we had done before that asked him we had done some direct cash relief because we were we we just knew people just needed money to get on their feet and to buy whatever local resources they could to to
to at least you know like make it to the next day or to the next week and and we had learned from the earthquake where the earthquake response that my organization did CHES did was a whole drive and we don't like it was the worst decision and that's a story for another day but this time we're like we're just giving cash because that's what people need build know how to find the resources and local people can benefit as opposed to external people benefiting from a crisis like if that's crazy so yeah this poultry farm took lots of partners so we really worked hard to to work with the locals have local leadership behind this and a lot of different funders with complex funding schemes and and we also first started by bootstrapping it ourselves to get the momentum going with the community so we we we held fundraising activities here we sold haitian products we're working with startups who are amazing just amazing people amazing startups got to make friends through partnering with them to sell their their wonderful products and in generate income for the organization to be able to run into be able to support the the projects and different initiatives so yeah so basically this poultry farm took from 2017 the end of 2007 so beginning or middle 2017 up until recently like i think last at the end of the at the end of january the farm is literally standing and then over the last few weeks it has started receiving hen but along the way a boy has who there's been so much learning so much you know so much adversity and challenges to navigate and and it's been amazing to watch the community you know grow and i myself growing throughout the process as well and learning certain things we would never let happen again
Is there a point where you hesitated to start it? What got you over that hump?
Well i guess the hesitancy was the family as i mentioned earlier i had to switch from what i originally wanted to do which was to start up a business and then and then but the purpose remained the same so i found a different way
One of the biggest challenges people face when it comes to starting passion projects is finding time in their already busy lives to do it. How did you find or make time for your project?
yeah it was hard but a lot of weekends evenings and and then also i i benefited from a being employment that in an organization that had very great benefits so if you're so if you're thinking about if you have to make transitions and you're thinking about starting something on the side you want to think about the benefits package what kind of vacation days options do you get so sometimes it might make sense you give up a little bit more of the earnings to have more time and more flexibility so flexibility was also important and i was very blessed that not only in one of my roles did the did the vacation kind of the vacation package was liberal well i wouldn't say liberal but it compared to some places liberal there and then there are other places they're like oh you have unlimited days knowing people don't always will never take unlimited days of vacation but anyhow you know having A good vacation package and then also having a flex in the work hours, I was able to really, you know, get things off the ground.
It was. Yeah, it was among the more difficult times in life. Plus, I'm married, and there was, you know, like, you, you, there are trade offs, you know, and so, I, I had to carry a lot of the organization's work on my shoulders, even though I had worked hard to try to get our board and to get leadership and everything on, like, as far as volunteers to, to help distribute the load in it, it didn't pan out that way. And you just, you just made it happen. You know, like, if it was like, you had to get up at one or 2am to do it, or you had to stay late. You just did it. And then and then, you know, and then there were then I was working in ensuring that I'd work in some time for my personal life. But there was very little of that at that time.
Another big challenge faced is fatigue. You work 9-to-5, it takes up 95% of your energy. And we are not even talking about family and their needs yet. What can you share with the listeners about getting energy after all the demands of life?
I love to eat. So like eat, it's just like, you know, when you're feeling depleted, taking the time out to do those things you love or if it's like a day of bingeing, you know, giving myself permission to binge and do nothing. And like, watch a good show I'm working out. And then that sort of, that sort of gave me the energy to move on. Passion, of course, helps but passion kins, you can still get burned out on running on the fuel of passion, you really do have to step back and take care of yourself. So I had to learn that the hard way too. And so, and I'm also very blessed that my husband helped me, you know, like, helped me like, see that. But, um, but yeah, you've the passion also gave me another kind of wind of energy. And when you see the labor of your hand bearing fruit, oh, my goodness, and then especially when you see the collective labor bearing fruit, there's new kind of, you know, like, I don't know, like, how to explain that joy,
I have heard about passion projects providing renewed confidence and new skills when it comes to people’s day jobs. How has your passion project impacted the way you show up at your day job?
So I, in my previous roles, have tended to work in flat organizations. So there, you know, you, you'd have a certain amount of growth, and then you could plateau easily, if you weren't one looking for challenging to continually challenge yourself. So I found ways to, to, to how do you say that like to channel some of the energy like that, in that energy of ambition or energy of wanting of striving in the organization, where I may have, you know, where the opportunities may have been limited, and sometimes SMS is outright denied it for for not that really good reason. And, and so that, that enabled that and so then, like, I didn't feel like I was wasting my time or like, energy and ideas were wasting away because there was a place to work on them. And then the other thing too, is that then I was able to, like, what I was, you know, all of the richness of what was happening outside of work,
I was able to trickle into a number of my roles and in fact, that what I was doing outside is what led me to a new role. when i moved to babson so babson i was first a student undergrad and then not undergrad grad excuse me my mba and then i went to uganda with professor will gina glover another amazing woman like my goodness love her and in during that trip she she noticed that she she learned about CHES she noticed mean like some of my different characteristics and such and she said hey you know i'm looking for somebody for this role at the lewis institute i think you'll be great and i was a little bit hesitant at first because i wasn't sure if it was the right fit i didn't like i didn't know that much around healthcare then like global healthcare entrepreneurship she called it i just knew what my mom had done but i hadn't you know i didn't know much about the sector but i knew about you know getting stuff done through the work and she she saw value in that and so then i was i've gotten i jumped into that role and a lot of my network you know was able to be of benefit to the work there and and yeah i learned a lot
There is someone out there listening to this recording who has something they are passionate about but they are on-the-fence when it comes to starting. What bit of guidance would you provide to them?
i think it's i think there's there are some questions you have to ask yourself so when i think about i would when it's like something in the ladder like the hot sauce i'd say just try it just try it you know like put it put aside you know like like i think a few $1,000 to $5,000 can give you enough to just start you know get get yourself registered you know you buy some and you don't spend it all at once you know you like you you slowly build in you do some experiments to then be able to validate that's where i encourage you know like jump in and experiment start small and experiment when it's something that's more impact driven that's where aye aye aye aye i counseled and encouraged people to really think deeply and really do your homework because it's people's lives at stake so you have to really understand the system of the challenge and who are the different stakeholders who benefits from a challenge you know a societal challenge showing up the way that it does and who who you know is hurt by it and how so and what what are the policies that histories etc and then look at who are the different you know what are the different entities or people that are doing things about it um about a societal challenge and then figure out well what is the best way for me to for me to add value here you know you don't want to come in and do something duplicative and in in in try to compete i think in when it comes to social event like a social problem it's you should be looking more thinking of the word collaboration thinking of the world word partnership thinking of the system of things that stakeholders and talking to those stakeholders understanding you got to do your homework you don't want to jump in and then and then try to you know use like that experimental mindset and then you you make things worse for people so that's what i would say about that
that was so powerful and i love to distinguish the kind of how you distinguish between something that you're you're doing and you can experiment with and the other one that's like that is impact driven and really has an it could have an impact on people's lives and the thought of words like collaboration and making sure you do your do your homework do your homework that's there's a lot of people who are going to be blessed by hearing those words i can i can tell already there's people who are who on the fence and they probably have their legs bent ready to dive in and in your words are going to help them to save a whole bunch of time and agony so thank you for that for that that are there
it doesn't mean that the hot sauce venture won't have impact and i do believe like that will and it can but there's a there's such a difference in like making some widget you know what i mean or some some product versus trying to directly address a societal challenge through a venture so i just want just want to make sure i said that too as well
tell us more about your hot sauce venture and how long has it been in existence how did this come to be you started to tell us about it but kind of the how did it come to be and were there any hesitation points and kind of what got you to job
yeah basically i mean this is something that my husband and i wrote down as part of our like family plan like probably 10 years ago and it wasn't that we said we're gonna start a venture we said we're gonna start a business together that benefits society that can support our family and our dreams and so we're still at the beginning so you know that's to be determined but i have high hopes but anyhow we you know the corona virus and the pandemic was had halted the world and now we're at home and where we find ourselves together all the time and then you know the the different stimulus checks came in and we were thinking about well what do we do with you know this extra funding i mean there's so much that we could do given that we were in that income bracket that you know like there's a lot that we could have done with that money but we're like well you know like my husband i looked each other i was like well you know what there's we've always had about this business this could be the time to actually try it why not hesitancy wise there's a lot going on for my husband and i still in at that at the time when we decided to to start i mean chess was still going on even though I knew we were ramping down but it was a lot to handle with the ramp down and then like my husband's and in school as well so very busy and then i was like well i don't know you know and so so was he and at first like there was definitely some i'd say like growing pains or adjusting to learn to work with each other in that way but it was like we have this opportunity why wait any longer and so that's what you know was the the deciding factor for us
Lastly, are there any particular books that you have found helpful along the passion project journey? Please share 1 to 3 of them if any come to mind.
I'm a more of a reader of of articles and i love to listen to different talks and so i'm like i'm more i get my info and inspiration from so many different places so i wish i had thought about that a little bit before this but i when i think about you know the social entrepreneurship like that venture there's a book by a guy named tyler gage fully alive but i thought it was such a beautiful book that was so honest about the personal journey and the the the journey of the venture he started called runa tea and just a beautiful book so i think that's a really good one for those folks who are thinking about going you know adjusting as a societal venture through a for profit or for purpose entity because i think there are a lot of things that you can learn from that and you also have to really do a lot of introspection and you know like i think this is more of one where he did it afterward but i'd say the sooner you do it the better you do by yourself into the people you're actually trying to help and so that's something i would advise as far as for the hot sauce like literally i got some powerpoint presentation somewhere of setting up a business i went on youtube we'll just double check something so went on the the the state secretaries website and then also you know i had had some prior experience with navigating like the employer identification number which is so easy to do on the irs website with chess and and then i use this service called zen business i think to get registered you could i could have easily filed it myself but i wanted you know i felt like more security working through a platform registering it was super easy and then i think there's some online forum called FormSwift i have to find the name exactly but it's basically a a repository of all of these legal contract templates and that was also super helpful to to to get a subscription to that you can i use google business and and then got a business bank account you know like a few months after having incorporated and with my phone and with shopify like we were ready to go basically
Where can the people learn more about your passion project and the dope work you are putting out into the world.
Sure thanks for that it's so we're in the very beta early stages so we're still working on the branding the name and all of that so you're you know those who follow us now you're gonna see the ugly dirty journey before we become the the polish brand which is it wishes the fun of also the the whole thing but go to instagram at oby sauce.
Links to items and people mentioned in this episode
Form Swift: https://formswift.com/
Communities for Haitian Entrepreneurs and Startups: https://chesinternational.org/