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From the work of their hands

"From the work of their hands" Continued...

Issue: "Getting paid not aid," Feb. 22, 2014

Global aid advocates and economists like Jeffrey Sachs won’t be let off the hook for the dysfunctional economies created by aid regimes. The UN’s long-touted Millennium Development Goals, that include cutting global poverty by half, come due in 2015. Already critics like New York University’s William Easterly (author of White Man’s Burden and Tyranny of Experts due out next month) are pointing out that “raising enough money to pay for the right combination of known technical solutions” to poverty hasn’t proved the answer. 

Sachs has been the darling economist for financiers like George Soros and celebrity philanthropists. But a 2013 book by Nina Munk, The Idealist, examines up-close and in-depth Sachs’ vaunted Millennium Villages Project, a dozen model villages set up across 10 African countries with Soros millions—and chronicles their failure to thrive. 

In all the world there’s no better example of the failure of big aid and formulaic poverty-fighting than Haiti: For more than a decade, donor nations have spent per capita more than double the world average on aid here—more even than in places like Somalia and Sierra Leone—without seeing measurable reductions in poverty.

RAISING THE STANDARD AND DIGNITY OF WORK: Bead makers at Papillon Enterprise in Petionville.
Iv Whitman/The Global Orphan Project
RAISING THE STANDARD AND DIGNITY OF WORK: Bead makers at Papillon Enterprise in Petionville.
“Our products have to be beautiful”: Papillon employs about 200 artisans to create bracelets, necklaces, and Christmas ornaments.
Papillon
“Our products have to be beautiful”: Papillon employs about 200 artisans to create bracelets, necklaces, and Christmas ornaments.
“Our products have to be beautiful”: Papillon employs about 200 artisans to create bracelets, necklaces, and Christmas ornaments.
Mindy Belz
“Our products have to be beautiful”: Papillon employs about 200 artisans to create bracelets, necklaces, and Christmas ornaments.
‘I would never be able to buy enough rice to feed these people. They feed themselves with the money they earn.’ —Shelley Clay
Handout
‘I would never be able to buy enough rice to feed these people. They feed themselves with the money they earn.’ —Shelley Clay
 “Whatever we do has to serve orphan care in some way”: The Eben Ezer church in Leogane.
Mindy Belz
“Whatever we do has to serve orphan care in some way”: The Eben Ezer church in Leogane.
 “Whatever we do has to serve orphan care in some way”: Girls from the community.
Iv Whitman/The Global Orphan Project
“Whatever we do has to serve orphan care in some way”: Girls from the community.

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BUT THERE CAN BE A SILVER LINING to making so many mistakes: savvy entrepreneurs watching and ready to learn from them. One is Shelley Clay, who founded Papillon Enterprise in 2008 after quickly surmising the worth for Haitians of business startups versus charity handouts.

Shelley and her husband, Corrigan, traveled to Haiti in 2007 hoping to adopt. “I soon realized most of the ‘orphans’ I was seeing had parents,” she said. They simply could not afford to care for them.

Clay also realized that the thousands of dollars going to adoption fees would end up in government officials’ hands and the bureaucracy, not with poor Haitian families. The more urgent need, she decided, was to help poor mothers earn money so they could afford to keep their children rather than turn them over to orphanages.

Nine months later Clay moved to Port-au-Prince with her husband and went to work in an orphanage. She started classes making bead necklaces with four women. “The necklaces were ugly but people were buying them anyway,” she said. “There’s so much guilt purchasing, and more with the earthquake, but with it we were employing moms.”

Starting Papillon as a nonprofit, Clay used grants—including one from the Clinton Foundation that helped expand her present facilities in Petionville, a hilly suburb of Port-au-Prince—to leverage what’s become a for-profit business. At the end of 2010 she sold $100,000 in jewelry, mostly overseas, through her nonprofit overseas exchange, the Apparent Project. In 2013, Papillon had an estimated $1 million in sales.

In that time the company has grown from 40 workers to about 250 today. Many of them Clay hired as she visited orphanages and then tent cities following the quake. Her employees also now include 30 inmates who are rolling beads for two hours a day and getting paid for it. “It’s huge,” she said, “because in Haiti you can’t go to trial without money.” She hopes to expand job opportunities in prisons, including a nearby women’s prison.

It didn’t take Clay long to learn what leads to success. “Our products have to be beautiful,” she said. And raising the standard and dignity of work for Haitians is key to that. Most Papillon employees earn $15 a day, an above-average wage, plus they receive health insurance, something unheard of. “I would never be able to buy enough rice to feed these people,” she said. “They feed themselves with the money they earn.”

Several single mothers who work at Papillon have progressed from having their children in orphanages to owning their own homes and paying the fees to send their children to school.

Clay came into the business with no design training or art-school background, but has learned on the job with the often-underestimated expertise of Haitian artisans. She’s also taken advantage of local ingenuity at using materials recycled from the street. With the company’s growth, her current challenge is finding upper management: “People coming out of accounting school don’t know how to do a spreadsheet here.”

Given Haiti’s dysfunctional economy, Clay is persistently threading her way through a landscape of NGOs, government entities, and private overseas customers. Papillon goods sold through the Apparent Project are now carried by leading designers like Donna Karan and Chan Luu. Large-scale vendors (including Walmart) want to contract for the company’s Christmas ornaments (in 2013 Papillon sold 50,000 of them). 

At the same time, Clay partners purposefully with smaller NGOs and faith-based nonprofits like The Global Orphan Project more in line with her own philosophy. This spring the Kansas City, Mo.–based Global Orphan Project (GO) will carry necklaces and bracelets made by Papillon through its GO Exchange, which sells locally made clothing and accessories from Haiti, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

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