Viviana Alvarez

Viviana felt so compelled to help families in need in Haiti that she set up an NGO.

A personal breaking point

When a powerful earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, Viviana Alvarez, a Global Supply Chain Strategies Manager based in Spain, came close to giving up her job to focus on relief efforts.

Haiti´s earthquake changed a lot of lives: 316,000 people died, 310,000 were injured and over 1.8 million became homeless in what was already the poorest country in the western hemisphere, where more than 70% of the population live on less than $2 a day. But Haiti´s earthquake also changed Vivi and her family, who were in Haiti the day it struck, and immediately volunteered to help people in desperate conditions.

“At the time I felt so frustrated that I wasn’t there to help too,” she remembers. “I understood from an economical and geopolitical perspective how Haiti could be condemned to misery unless action was taken and I knew I had to do something. I felt like I reached a personal breaking point and I was planning to quit my job to go out there.”

Help to Haiti

Vivi shared her feelings with her manager, who encouraged her not to make a hasty decision about leaving her role, but instead to consider how she might be able to apply her professional skills to make a difference.

The result was Help to Haiti, an NGO founded by Vivi, her manager and another Unilever colleague, family and friends – and four years later it’s going strong. The organisation supports individuals affected by the disaster and has supplied the equivalent of $500,000 of medical care, 3 tonnes of food and goods and $120,000 in donations. To date it has also provided 140 micro-credits to 84 families in order to support sustainable local empowerment within communities.

“Our work has focused on humanitarian and basic needs, infrastructure, education and sanitation, but our vision was to move to real empowerment, helping families to earn a living, and we’re working with Unilever on this now,” Vivi explains.

Learning from Unilever’s partnerships

In addition to her projects in Haiti, Vivi is also a Unilever Foundation Ambassador, working with Unilever’s partner Population Services International to see how our products and campaigns are making a positive impact for communities around the world.

“Being an Ambassador has enabled me to better understand our corporate partnerships with NGOs and our existing social business models,” Vivi says.

“The Unilever Foundation enables more than just social investment – we’re helping people make a living from selling our products in under-served and remote areas and that’s something we hope to recreate through a pilot programme in Haiti in the coming months.”

From inspiration to opportunity

Vivi says she was thrilled to have an opportunity to raise awareness about the problems still affecting the people of Haiti among a wide audience by speaking at the TED@Unilever event.

“I’m happy to speak out about how I was able to translate my frustration into real actions. I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to help make a difference in Haiti, and I’ve been guided, challenged and encouraged by Unilever every step of the way,” she adds.

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