Business Undefined - by Danielle Short
To be honest, we are quite doubtful about our level of competency and ability to make a real impact in the coming seven days. The day began during our bumpy bus ride to the village Rapissa and discussion on the importance of building relationships today with the women that we will be working with in the sewing business collaborative, Women in Action. In many ways we didn’t know what to expect of ourselves, the environment in which Women in Action operates, and the ensuing outcome of our Haiti Empowerment Project, but our prior communication with the group made us feel like we at least had a good understanding of the business itself—but we were wrong.
Our understanding was that we would be working with the business through consultative services on the different aspects of their business (operations, marketing, accounting, human resources, etc.), but what we found upon meeting the leaders of Women in Action was that this was not a business at all—at least not in the way we view business.
The women do not convene regularly, or even very often, to work. It’s more like they come to work if someone asks them to mend clothing or occasionally to make a school uniform for a cheaper price than they could get elsewhere, whereas we thought they operated on a regular basis producing market bags, uniforms, and wedding dresses. There is also no process in place for acquiring materials. Rather, they are sometimes supplied with fabric from the United States, which is donated at no cost to them by Acts 29.
Though we may not consider Women in Action as an actual, sustainable business model, that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t had a positive impact in the community, nor that it doesn’t use basic business principles to function. The women in the group are proud of their accomplishments in learning the trade and being able to create products of value, and the leader, Monette, expressed how their main purpose isn’t to make “big money,” as our translator JB would say, but to make their services accessible to those who can’t afford them elsewhere (sounds like a social enterprise to us).
At this moment we are feeling a lot of pressure, as we understand more and more the challenges before us, especially considering the short time frame. We experience moments of self-doubt, reflection on whether or not we are part of the problem in Haiti, and intense discussion on what we could possibly accomplish in these next few days if anything at all, and how (this is important) to go about doing it.
Literal Market Research - by Danielle Short
The definition of ‘market research’ is: research that gathers and analyzes information about the moving of goods or services from producer to consumer. This form of research can be done in any kind of setting, but today we happened to partake in some market research in actual markets (hence the phrase literal market research).
We visited two different markets, the one in Casale and another in Tytian, where we had conversations with consumers and vendors to gain insight on the consumers’ interests and needs pertaining to durable grocery bags and other items that Women in Action could potentially produce. We experienced a lot of interesting interactions during these moments. In Casale, the people were very open, friendly, and willing to talk and joke around with us, while the people in the larger market were a little more guarded and concerned about losing out on sales in the time that they spent discussing with us.
One thing that was great about the markets—and throughout the day, for that matter—was how we were working in interdisciplinary groups. We were joined by non-business students and different advisors and translators who brought new perspectives to our group and created a lot of positive discussion and brainstorming for our project, and this most certainly enriched the experience in the markets.
In turn, we joined the First Aid group in visiting a school in the village Rapissa to teach kids about First Aid through songs and drama, which were led by our translators, Henry and Chelor and one of the students in our group, Helen. Singing, dancing, and laughing with the kids who thrilled to spend time with us was a refreshing experience for our business group; it was just plain fun.
Today felt productive and very hands-on. It was a long day, but at the end we think everyone was proud of what they were able to accomplish. In terms of our project, our ideas seem to be taking shape as we gain more insight on the kind of products consumers are looking for, which are big, durable bags with zippers and pockets—and colorful ones for the women.