Empowering women micro-entrepreneurs in Haiti

Haiti faces huge challenges in tackling the poverty that affects the lives of millions of its people. There is a real need to improve health and hygiene across the country – especially in rural areas – and create sustainable livelihoods.

Unilever and Population Services International (PSI) – the global health organisation – are teaming up once again to improve health and wellness in the country. In a partnership with Haitian micro-financing organisation Fonkoze, the organisations are working to help Haitians build a better future.

Partnership for change

The new partnership combines the strengths of the three organisations: Unilever’s health and hygiene portfolio, PSI’s expertise in sustainable behaviour change and Fonkoze’s network of women micro-entrepreneurs.

The programme is building on the existing network of women micro-entrepreneurs and training these women to sell health and hygiene products in their local communities. Forty ‘health boutiques’ – known as Boutik Santé – are being set up in rural areas and will sell health and hygiene products from Unilever and PSI, along with other products. The programme will offer economic opportunities to women living in the impoverished north of the country, at the same time as improving health and hygiene.

Viviana Alvarez, Global Supply Chain Strategy Project Leader at Unilever Spain and Unilever Foundation Ambassador for PSI, visited Haiti to see how the partnership is changing lives.

As Vivi explains, “each micro-entrepreneur will receive health training, including the skills to diagnose common chronic diseases and deliver behaviour change health messaging. They will also be able to access quality, affordable health products.

“In this way, the women can increase their income while simultaneously improving the health and well-being of their communities.”

Each of the micro-entrepreneurs will be asked to train a further 40 women, transferring the skills that they themselves have learnt. In total, 1,600 women will be trained to spread health and hygiene messages in their communities. “As each Haitian family has an average of five people, the programme aims to improve the quality of life for around 8,000 Haitians,” Vivi adds.

Vivi’s inspiration

The health and well-being of Haitians are close to Vivi’s heart. Moved by the plight of the people after the 2010 earthquake, she set up an NGO called H2H – Help 2 Haiti – to improve the living conditions of the population. The contacts she made and the skills she learnt in working with Haitians paved the way for this new partnership.

“Around 60% of Haitians live in poverty, with little access even to basic healthcare and with no financial security,” she says. “I’m proud to combine my two passions – for Haiti and for Unilever – to help create opportunities and make a big difference to many lives.”

Building healthier lives

Since 2011, Unilever and PSI have worked in partnership on programmes to improve health in local communities in India, Kenya, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. The Haiti programme is a further example of how Unilever and PSI are collaborating to support the Millennium Development Goals and help build stronger, healthier societies.

Past collaborations between Unilever and PSI include the handwashing with soap campaigns. Better hygiene, through handwashing with soap, reduces the number of child deaths from preventable diseases like diarrhoea. This disease is also endemic in Haiti and is second-largest cause of death among under-fives.

PSI has been working in Haiti for 25 years, alongside local government and NGOs. With its wide experience of behaviour change, PSI will provide the sales and customer service training to the micro-entrepreneurs and help create market demand for products they will be selling.

Fonkoze is Haiti’s largest micro-finance institution. As part of its Staircase Out of Poverty initiative, Fonkoze runs a comprehensive programme to empower women and help them build a sustainable livelihood. Micro-entrepreneurs who already have a Fonkoze micro-loan in hand will be offered training in business skills.

Vivi concludes: “It’s been great to work closely with all three parties in the project to exchange knowledge and plan the next steps on how we can use social business models to make a tangible difference to so many communities.”

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