Partners Worldwide News

 

Business Mentoring in Haiti

Whether walking through a pharmaceutical factory, determining effective popsicle production, or advising business owners in ethics or manufacturing methods, engineer Bernie Woltjer has focused his experience and knowledge to improve lives just a hop-and-a-skip away. 

In the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, Bernie and Nick Tuit—a friend he met more than 40 years ago in college—have partnered with businesspeople of Haitian Partners for Christian Development (HPCD) since 2007, strengthening local production companies of six entrepreneurs through mentoring. 

“My personal goal was to find a situation where I could use the business experiences I took a lifetime to accumulate—the judgment and knowledge,” says Bernie, father and grandfather. “I wanted to find a place where I could apply that to someone else’s good, to better their life and provide jobs to other people.”

Bernie and Nick have long-term relationships with a wide range of entrepreneurs in local production—including solar paneling streetlights, kitchen cabinetry, popsicles, pharmaceuticals, backpacks, peanut butter, and, following the earthquake in January 2010, transitional housing units.

One of the partners is a husband-and-wife duo, Kees and Evelien de Gier, who, as a young married couple, left the Netherlands over 20 years ago to invest their lives in Haiti.  Business and job creation was their God-given mission.  

Today, as co-owners of a growing business, Maxima S.A., the de Giers employ over 130 Haitians in the design and production of transitional housing units, kitchen cabinetry and caskets.

“Our work with Maxima has been a real mentoring partnership,” Bernie describes, “especially as they operate there with some very difficult situations.  They’ve dedicated their lives as a mission through business.”

Although Nick holds four decades of experience in the pharmaceutical industry and Bernie in manufacturing, their partners in Haiti often request insight that the two cannot provide. Instead, Bernie connects them with others of the professional network who can better meet the needs—an affiliate model that has proven effective over the years.

“We try to sort out serious issues, and then bring them to other people to help solve,” says Bernie.  Two years ago, they connected entrepreneur Marie LeFevre with Jack Vander Ploeg, another North American businessperson, to work through problems LeFevre was facing.  “He’s a refrigerator expert and helped us get two new compressor machines to her,” he says. 

With access to the flexible network of mentors, Madame Lefevre now employs 19 people and daily supplies iced popsicles to over 250 contracted vendors.

The partnership between two college friends and entrepreneurs in Haiti has been fulfilling on both sides, he says.

“I really wanted to get involved with what I can do personally.  Finding these Christian people partnering through HPCD and Partners Worldwide was what I wanted to find.”