The University of Notre Dame’s Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child (GC-DWC) has launched its newest initiative aimed at fostering locally-led, sustainable development projects. The GC-DWC’s Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) integrates market forces, sound business principles, and science-based innovations to translate knowledge into opportunities and sustainable excellence for children, families, and communities.
Fundamentally, social enterprises leverage entrepreneurship to address complex social issues and ultimately foster sustainable solutions, create capacity, and empower people at local levels. A social enterprise lens, through which market forces and business principles coalesce to sustain education, child welfare, and community development initiatives, is especially necessary to employ in contexts where government investments in human capital and social development are woefully insufficient. Initially, the GC-DWC’s SEI team, with its diversity of business, entrepreneurial, academic, and practitioner-focused backgrounds, will focus its efforts in Haiti with the ultimate goal of contextualizing and replicating similar approaches in other low- and middle-income countries.
“For so long, development projects have been tied to grant cycles, with progress left to atrophy once funding runs out,” said Dr. Neil Boothby, founding director of the GC-DWC. “A social enterprise approach to development acknowledges that low-income communities and countries face complex challenges that cannot be overcome in a single grant-cycle. Our social enterprise initiative will apply business principles in the communities in which we work to achieve social objectives all the while empowering locally-led development efforts.”
Building on a series of long-standing relationships, partnerships, and programming in Haiti, the SEI team will embed its social enterprise philosophy through multiple avenues and mechanisms.
The Haiti Salt Project: a social enterprise, owned and operated by the Congregation Sainte Croix – Haiti and backed by science, that uses business principles for the public good, in particular, the elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) and the prevention of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD).
Mail Boxes Etc.- Haiti: a global franchise established as a locally-run company that will feed profits back into local schools, and cultivate local business by providing business services and low-cost, reliable package delivery.
The University of Notre Dame Haiti-Hinche: a Haitian-led university that offers robust tracks in bioscience, entrepreneurship, and technical and vocational education and training.
The Kwasans Foundation: a non profit, philanthropic organization committed to supporting Haitian institutions. Kwasans provides technical and financial support for the establishment of Mail Boxes Etc. and the buildout of University of Notre Dame Haiti-Hinche’s capacity.
The Haiti Salt Project (HSP), a leading producer and distributor of fortified salt in Haiti, has joined the University of Notre Dame’s Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child (GC-DWC).
Founded in 2006 as part of the University of Notre Dame Haiti Program, HSP distributes fortified salt to fight lymphatic filariasis (LF) and iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) in Haiti. Its production facility is the leading Haitian supplier of packaged salt, under its “Bon Sel Dayiti” brand name, to the retail, foodservice, food-processing, and industrial markets.
“We are thrilled to be joining forces with the Haiti Salt Project,” said Dr. Neil Boothby, the director of the GC-DWC. “Their addition to our team paves the way for an innovative collaboration of education and nutrition initiatives that addresses the needs of the whole child, creating sustainable pathways out of adversity for children in Haiti and beyond.”
HSP works as a non-profit in the Congregation of Holy Cross-Haiti, in coordination with the Haitian Ministry of Health and with technical support from Cargill, Inc. HSP is a major supplier of fortified salt to Haitian school-meal programs, which provide subsidized or free meals to students in need, and is an intellectual leader and advocate for the nutritional and educational impact of serving meals prepared with fortified salt in Haitian schools. Given its vast experience and footprint in Haiti, HSP is well-poised to collaborate with the GC-DWC’s Strong Beginnings initiative and to improve the educational outcomes of children in Haiti through crucial improvements to nutrition and the prevention of LF and IDD.
Joining the GC-DWC from Notre Dame’s College of Science, HSP will also continue its work of developing a self-sustaining business model as a social-enterprise, working to improve public health and to support future economic growth in Haiti. This will include HSP’s new Cap-Haitien Initiative that will strive to distribute fortified salt to 3 million Haitians in northern Haiti through a new distribution program and processing facility in development for Cap-Haitien.
“Teaming up with GC-DWC is a major step forward for HSP and our common goal of helping the people of Haiti, particularly the children of Haiti,” according to Jim Reimer, the director of HSP. “Working together with the Strong Beginnings initiative and leveraging our respective resources and relationships is an auspicious opportunity. We are excited for what lies ahead.”
Formidable challenges are not new to Father Jean Michelet Dorescar, Congregation de Sainte Croix, C.S.C., and General Manager of Bon Sel Dayiti, a Haitian fortified salt processor. After all, his country endures the ravages of frequent and devastating natural disasters, compounded by chronic economic instability and political unrest. Despite Haiti being in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fr. Michelet continues to be tireless in his efforts to provide the country with fortified salt to prevent iodine deficiency and help eradicate lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito born disease that affects more than two million Haitians.
The Bon Sel facility remains Haiti’s sole salt processing facility and plays a crucial role in fortifying both local and imported salt, as well as supplying food processors and food service operators with iodized salt. By expanding into the food industry, particularly bakeries and bouillon makers, iodized salt is reaching a wider population in which consumption patterns have shifted away from the in-house use of salt. In addition, Fr. Michelet has overseen an expansion into the industrial salt industry, providing positive margins to help offset operating expenses. The Bon Sel facility operates as a social enterprise with support from the University of Notre Dame and Cargill Salt, using commercial principles and marketplace strategies to address the pressing challenges of iodine deficiency and lymphatic filariasis more effectively.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents new and daunting challenges to healthcare, with many programs now halted or severely curtailed. The Bon Sel program is an example of a community-based health intervention that can continue to deliver benefits when many other activities must be suspended due to COVID-19. In spite of the pandemic, Fr. Michelet and his team continue to leverage the Haitian salt supply chain to cost effectively achieve healthcare objectives for preventing IDD. Bon Sel demonstrates how a commercial enterprise collaborating with like-minded government agencies and non-governmental organizations can serve as key contributors in addressing humanitarian needs.
With some packaging supplies running low and his labor force restricted, Fr. Michelet tends to the daily processing and fortification of salt. He is heartened by the ample amount of salt and is pleasantly surprised by the volume of sales and shipments to his commercial customers, particularly the bakeries and bouillon makers. While the mix of sales may shift somewhat, he accepts that the changes are merely part of the ebb and flow of supply and demand in the marketplace. Fr. Michelet is accustomed to having to adapt in the face of natural disasters, and COVID-19 is no exception—he continues to make the adjustments necessary to ensuring that the Haitian salt industry is in a position to benefit the health of his fellow Haitians. Once again, Bon Sel, Haiti’s indispensable salt program, weathers a storm.
Authored by: Chip Wirth; David O’Brien; James Reimer, Salt Project Director of the University of Notre Dame Salt Program
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