PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Teamwork requires cooperation to reach a common goal. In cooperatives, this is the involvement of the community from creation to consumption. Haiti Design Co-Op is a cooperative in Haiti which uses the “commonality between the designer, maker, and consumer” to develop community. It follows the Haitian proverb “many hands make the load light”, which embodies the cooperative spirit.
Founded in 2014, Haiti Design Co-op prioritizes people over profit, pursuing sustainable development through artistic design, in-house job training and stable employment. The cooperative employs around 60 local artisans to create fashion products across five branches. It is rooted in the organization’s philosophy that workers should be able to provide for their families and develop their communities.
The business model of Haiti Design Co-op has two prongs: entrepreneurship and support. The cooperative teaches entrepreneurship to encourage workers to start their own businesses. It also supports workers by providing meals, options for healthcare, savings accounts, counseling, education and emergency credit.
The artisans find real value and meaning in their work while using the money earned to support their families, and taking pride in the fact that their products are sold to customers around the world. One artisan, Emmanuel, told FabFitFun magazine: “When people have work we are able to provide for our families, pay for school for our kids, always have food and pay for our house.” This security is an essential driver of community development.
In an interview with Forbes, founder Chandler Busby discusses the organization’s ethical foundations. While many charities and orphanages combat the symptoms of poverty, buying local products addresses the root cause: a lack of reliable income. If families earn enough to support their children and communities, fewer social services will be required further down the line. By providing training and support, the cooperative offers stability to Haiti’s poor.
The cooperative’s community initiative, called the Banana Leaf Initiative, works to address poverty in three ways. The organization encourages recycling and sustainable energy use, promotes wellness through exercise, nutritional counseling and gardening, and it cultivates these ideas by spreading them throughout the community.
Disaster-relief efforts have been a focus of the initiative since October 2016, when Hurricane Matthew unleashed widespread damage in Haiti. Much of the damage occurred in farming communities, and the Haiti Design Co-op raised money for three separate but intertwined funds. The Necessity fund is used to provide basics to victims, such as food and clothing. Products are purchased directly from Haitian producers, rather than being imported, which stimulates the damaged agricultural sector.
The Investment Fund helps to repair damage to farming communities. This fund purchases livestock and helps farmers replant to keep the economy growing. With so much of productive farming infrastructure destroyed, Haiti’s food security is at risk, and the rising cost of food will lead to hunger if investments are not made early.
The Shelter Fund provides new housing and repairs in collaboration with local organizations. The cooperative is also selling special toys, with a portion of the revenue being donated to New Story Charity, an organization building disaster-resistant homes.
By addressing root causes of poverty and hardship, the Haiti Design Co-op is making lasting changes to empower local communities and build resilience for the future.
– Lucas Woodling