OSU helps foster entrepreneurship in Haiti

(June 19, 2012 at 10:21 am)

Created within a student incubator at Oklahoma State University and managed by OSU alumnus Rock Andre, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Leadership (CEDEL Haiti) is a social enterprise focused on empowering entrepreneurs across Haiti. The venture was officially launched in late May with the kick off featuring a series of presentations by Andre and Michael Morris, professor and the N. Malone Mitchell Chair in Entrepreneurship at OSU.

Michael Morris professor and the N. Malone Mitchell Chair in Entrepreneurship at OSU and Rock Andre, OSU alumnus

Haiti has been ravaged by decades of poverty, crime, corruption and unemployment. These problems, combined with weak institutions and underdevelopment infrastructure, were made markedly worse with the devastating earthquake of 2010. Even two years later, only limited progress has been made in the rebuilding the country.

Part of the solution lies with the creation of new, start-up ventures together with assistance to help existing small businesses survive and grow.

“In Haiti we do not have enough of a culture of entrepreneurship, and even many small business owners do not consider themselves entrepreneurs,” said Andre. “Our goal is to help encourage an entrepreneurial mindset, and to give individuals the tools to create a new Haiti through their own ventures.”

The partnership between CEDEL Haiti and Oklahoma State will eventually involve a number of other non-profit, governmental and business organizations, all committed to empowerment and transformation through entrepreneurship. A mix of training, incubation, consulting, networking, mentoring and resource support services are being offered.

“Our approach is to provide assistance that is tailored to four different stages of venture development, including pre-start-up, launch, stability and growth,”  said Andre. “We want to become a source of connection between entrepreneurs and a range of resource providers.”

CEDEL Haiti is employing a number of the lessons learned and practical frameworks developed in OSU’s Entrepreneurship Empowerment in South Africa (EESA) Program. Led by Morris, EESA involves 25 students and three faculty members working with historically disadvantaged entrepreneurs in the poverty-stricken townships near Cape Town, South Africa. Andre was a student in this six-week program before completing his Master’s of Science in Entrepreneurship at OSU.

The kick-off of Cedel Haiti included public forums involving over 200 people, including a group of entrepreneurs, a gathering of young people, and professionals from the Bank of the Republic of Haiti. Meetings were also held with representatives from local universities in Haiti, and a number of service providers.

In his presentations, Morris emphasized the entrepreneurial potential that lies within every citizen of Haiti and stressed the need to combine big dreams with discipline, tenacity, and creative problem-solving. In spite of all the challenges faced in Haiti, he gave numerous examples of available opportunities and stressed the need to learn how to recognize and act upon these opportunities.

Pointing out that the future of Haiti depends heavily on entrepreneurship, Morris discussed the importance of learning how to leverage resources, mitigate risk, and think in guerrilla ways. “Nothing is impossible,” he explained, “if young people refuse to let their limited resources and internal fears hold them back.”