On June 15, four IBEC consultants landed in Haiti’s capital and transferred to a small plane for the north coast of the country. From the landing in Port au Paix, we were transported into the north interior – a vast area of Haiti devastated by drought, famine, poverty and alienation. Our team was led be engineer and international business development professional, Ed Spence and included Kevin Spence (MBA), Jeremy Kaufmann (civil engineer) and Larry Sharp (IBEC Leadership Team). We quickly observed why Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
We were warmly (no pun intended, considering the 100+ degrees of heat) received by our hosts, engineer Bruce and wife Deb Robinson who had served these people tirelessly for over three decades. That very week Bruce was heading up 7 different projects focusing on infrastructure and Deb was feeding up to 18 people per day. They thanked us profusely and we ourselves felt the team experience was one of our best ever. Why so?
1. Clarity of Focus
We went with a clear purpose which kept us focused before, during and after the project. We kept coming back to why we were there, which kept us “out of the weeds” as one member loved to articulate. We were there to help develop a private irrigation pumping installation in order to sell river water to plantain farmers so they could have a consistent water supply. Droughts there in the north of Haiti often last for a year or longer. We anticipated that end results would include a business plan, financial planning, capital proposals and marketing strategies.
2. Commitment to the Task
The entire team was committed as evidenced by the fact that three of the team members were taking vacation time, or work with no pay, to come on the trip. They were coming to a desperately poor country, bringing their own food for two meals a day (boy did we enjoy Deb’s dinners), and sleeping under mosquito nets in desperately hot conditions. This was not a trip with a day at the beach as a reward; nor did we ever anticipate a cool rainy night. All were committed. And the commitment began before the trip as we made plans, developed work strategies along with Bob Johnstone, who remained in the USA. We traveled by 4×4 vehicle over donkey trails for hours at a time. The team was committed to the adventure and rallied behind every difficulty and task at hand.
3. Complementary Skills
Because the project was heavy on engineer skills and perspective, a total of three engineers (Bruce, Ed and Jeremy) were in their glory putting together formulas, measurements and spread sheets. Those with more of a management perspective (Larry, Kevin and Ed) focused on how this project could be profitable and sustainable. All of us cared about job creation and how it all could improve the conditions of this poor region of hundreds of thousands of people. The Triple Bottom Line of BAM (Business As Mission) was functionally central to all that we aimed for:
a. A profitable and sustainable pumping facility
b. Creation of jobs in the community – primarily farming
c. Developing of disciples of Jesus
4. Cooperative Effort
There was full cooperation in all that we did. We came with a desire to be learners by listening to the Robinsons and others we encountered. We visited former and current projects, asked lots of questions and interviewed several farmers, asking questions like: What are your needs? What are your current obstacles? How can we be of help? We met amazing guys like Shadrach, Pastor Evance, and farmers Edner, Moises and Eugene.
As a team we shared devotions and prayed together, we planned each day together and debriefed at the end of the day. Even though there were times we did not agree, there was total respect for one another and a spirit of teamwork. Together we wanted to contribute to an enormous task; we wanted to make a difference.
5. Consequential Results
Well motivated people like to see results and we were no exception. We all would admit that the three days of making observations, doing interviews and sharing perspectives left us confused and conflicted. Could we make sense of all we were experiencing? But things started to come together by the end of the third day. This left the next two days for putting it all together.
A plan emerged. We first agreed on a series of descriptive charts which put infrastructure, utilities, community development and small business development in perspective to each other. What do you do in an area where there is no infrastructure (roads, power, phone service, market structure, etc.)? What comes first? Where does business (our purpose in coming) fit in? We wanted to be successful. We wanted Bruce and Deb to be glad we came. We wanted the lives of these people to improve. I think we accomplished in one week something that contributed to those ends.
Our report and subsequent efforts focus on spin-off businesses from the pumping installation. We saw the water pumping unit as a utility with the support of businesses like maintenance and supply; marketing of farming products; fuel delivery sales, and similar ancillary businesses. We drafted plans, metrics, qualitative measurements, marketing strategies and training ideas. We drew upon the helpful models of Jim Collins and others. Could it be that we will see the flywheel momentum in this project?
As we boarded the 12-passenger Caravan plane, we all felt an overwhelming satisfaction from knowing that more than 200 families will have a sustainable livelihood, largely due to the work of Bruce and his team, but we had a small role in that. As all goes well with the anticipated pumping stations up and down Les Trois Rivieres, many businesses can be anticipated and more families thanking God for progress in a dry and thirsty land. The first installation is nearly completed and we will soon see water flowing to the farms. This tangible result is a sweet taste of victory – for sustainability, for job creation and for the name of Jesus.
Kevin reminded us of Isaiah 43: 19. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Nothing could be more relevant as we anticipate physical, social and spiritual results.
Larry W. Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures