Job creation. Obviously, you knew this was going to be one of my firm beliefs. Running Rosie’s has been my biggest adventure so far, with so many learning curves along the way. It’s crazy to look back and see how the Lord was preparing me as a business owner. My degree in graphic design gave me the skills to design and market our products. At one point in my college career, I had a hunch I would be an entrepreneur some day and started pursuing a certificate in entrepreneurship, but ended up being one class short to earn the certificate. Regardless, in pursuit of that certificate, I took classes in economics and marketing, which are classes I wouldn’t have taken otherwise. At the end of the day, I actually believe running your own business is more about guts and audacity, but my college education and everything I took away from those four years is something I’ll always be grateful for.
I’ve had the opportunity to work for several different companies within Haiti as well. They prepared my managerial skills, communication skills, and helped me realize the type of company I wanted to run. I’ve been able to witness the inner workings of a stable, healthy company and also a very unstable, poorly run company. Through these experiences I was able to learn importing and exporting within Haiti, sourcing products within Haiti, forecasting sales, pricing products and so many other things that have made me into the business woman I am today.
Most importantly, I’ve learned so many cultural lessons and how to best communicate with Haitians within the work force. Expectations, as I wrote about a few days ago, play a huge role and I’ve learned some of my hardest lessons not setting clear boundaries with people and also being beyond disappointed in other situations.
I’m constantly posting and writing about the importance of job creation and keeping families together, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Most all of the people I’ve ever worked with and employed are working for the first time and some even uneducated, so things like showing up on time, knowing how to use a scissors and managing their incomes are initial barriers to overcome. We are always trying to educate our employees on how to save and manage their money, but it always feels like someone is in crisis mode. From medical emergencies to family deaths, someone is always in need of money being loaned to them. So with that, I’ve had to define other boundaries and learned many other hard lessons when loaning people money. Things like contracts and Haitian employment laws and severance pay are things I never knew anything about but can now speak fluently about.
Even when a mama is given a job for the first time, she’s still more than likely living in a vulnerable situation. It’s gratifying knowing we are paying our greeting card mamas three times the minimum wage in Haiti, but their wages still end up only being $160/month and how can we actually expect them to thrive off of that? They’re all a part of a “jackpot” savings group. How it works is each time they’re all paid, they put a set amount of money into a “pot” and on week one, Susie gets the pot; on week two, Pam gets the pot; and on week three, Sally gets the pot. Since their access to banks are minimal, they use this “jackpot” system as a way to set money aside. Typically, they’ll use their “jackpots” to buy furniture for their homes or pay school fees or maybe start a small business in front of their homes. It’s also important to say that most of the Haitian economy is run off of a batering/open market system, so having small businesses – commerce they call them – in front of your home is very normal. Their commerces will more than likely be little stands full of candies or crackers; or maybe it will be a big bag of rice and beans that they’ll divide into small bags and sell for a profit; or a stand that’s full of cleaning and laundry supplies; or maybe it will be second hand clothing they’re reselling; or one of the most popular commerces is a charcoal stand. Nonetheless, learning about commerces and how they work are very important if you’re going to get into the job creation sector in Haiti.
But, back to the “jackpots” – which are called sols. My least favorite conversations are when an employee comes to me with a need and ends with, “I’ll pay you back when I get my sol money.” There’s this vicious part in the cycle, when they know their sol is coming, so they get themselves into a ton of debt and can’t use their savings for anything beneficial.
All that to say, it takes a lot of work – much more than just giving a person a job – to see a family empowered. It’s really a wholistic approach and there’s definitely ways we could be improving when it comes to serving our employees. But thinking about that all, stresses me out and quite frankly leads me down a road believing we will never be doing enough. But, the important work to recognize is all that we are doing, by the grace of God.
When I started Rosie’s, the whole model was to just buy wholesale from companies already doing all the hard work, employ a few boutique employees and use our profits to support my family and put money back into our non-profit ministry. I never wanted to be a person who was just reinventing something. That initial model was also the easiest as it didn’t require me overseeing many employees. But, God had much different plans and as I wrote above, He prepared me all the way through, even when I didn’t realize it.
Today, Rosie’s employs thirty-six people. We have six full-time boutique staff, four of which are our Salsa Sisters. Salsa Sisters is a small business we run under Rosie’s, where we make homemade salsa. We showcase the salsa on our cafe menu at the boutique, plus wholesale the salsa to several other cafes in Haiti. We have twenty-six mamas who stitch, tape and finish our greeting cards. These greeting cards provide superior wages and I’m still astonished by all the ways God has worked and provided in the lives of our mamas through this simple product. Additionally, we have one kick-ass manager, Hermanie, and three security guards we employ.
Jokes on me when I said I didn’t want to oversee nor be responsible to a lot of employees!
On top of our operations in Haiti, we have a bustling brick and mortar in Iowa, which has done much better than we ever expected (there’s that expectations theme again!) We also started our online platform almost two years ago and in the last three months, God has provided in BIG ways through this platform as our doors have been closed in Haiti.
All of our efforts through Rosie’s is run under our non-profit, Touch of Hope. I love the way the Lord has setup our business and allowed us to be sustainable, especially during these extremely difficult times in Haiti.
I say all of that because it’s more of a reminder to myself that good things are happening through Rosie’s. It’s always hard to see the good, when there’s so much chaos circling around your every effort. The phrase one step forward, two steps back is essentially Haiti’s entire mantra when it comes to doing business there. Nothing is simple. Even getting your business access to a clean water source, having 24/7 electricity and reliable internet is usually part of the daily struggle. Then there’s usually at least one major crisis to help an employee solve, plus two, three, or four other people coming to ask for work.
No matter how hard it all is, job creation, in my opinion, is the answer to the alleviation of poverty. Empowering a parent and providing a job does so many things: keeps families together, keeps kids off the streets, keeps kids in school, keeps women from prostituting themselves, keeps young men from joining gangs. With little to no opportunity, people become desperate and do desperate things. With little to no opportunity, violence becomes the lifestyle.
Fighting for family preservation and creating jobs is a life-long commitment and I think that’s why most people back away. Showing up, giving out some free gifts, taking a selfie with a cute kid for a new profile picture and walking away feeling blessed is the easy way to loving the poor. And, it’s what most short-term mission trips look like. But, job creation and investing in the family unit and fighting for sustainability looks a lot different. It requires a lot more of ourselves, plus a lot more from the people we serve as well. One of the most powerful ideas I ever read concerning job creation was the idea of making the parents the superheroes of the story.
How would you feel as a parent if in every aspect of your child’s life, someone else showed up to sponsor your child? Your child went to school because of a sponsor. Your child received a Christmas present because of a sponsor. Your child has shoes on his feet because of a sponsor. That’s the type of culture we live in in Haiti. But, for every job we create, means another parent who becomes the hero in his or her child’s story. A job means paid school fees, Christmas presents and shoes…all given by a mama or papa. It’s a picture of dignity, it’s a picture of empowered families and it’s also a picture of how I believe God intended things to be. He asks us to take care of the poor, but He also asks us to be tentmakers.
In the end, job creation is the hardest of work, but I also believe it’s the holiest of work.