Managing "Haiti" from Abroad

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • July 23, 2012 5:32 PM EDT
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  • 1,871 views

In the last few years, young members of the Haitian Diaspora have been expressing in numerous ways their desire to help Haiti, or to reconnect with their home country. Many have chosen to visit it more often and to literally study their country, others have volunteered with non-profits, while a great number have moved to take on a job in Haiti.

Another way Haitian youth living abroad is trying to reconnect with Haiti and contribute is through business ventures. One of the key questions they have to answer is: “How to best manage a company in Haiti from abroad?”

Perle Group is a company founded by Gabrielle Rigaud and Martine Stephenson, two young Haitians living in the US who want to see Haiti regain its nickname,“The Pearl of the Antilles”. Their vision is to create a hospitality network, converting vacant homes in Haiti into a chain of Bed and Breakfast facilities that correspond to modern standards. The Perle Group wants to see travelers get their backpacks and travel Haiti without worrying about where to stay and how to get there.

“As we started exploring the idea, we found out that unless you have family in Haiti, or you are with a church group, it would be quite difficult to explore the terrain and find lodging, "says Gabrielle.

In early 2011, Gabrielle and her team started putting the system in place. At first managing their Haiti project from the US was quite challenging. Information on Haiti was scarce and communication channels were unreliable; therefore, they had to travel frequently back and forth.

"It's rocky. That's when we realized we needed a support system in Haiti”, says Gabrielle.

They had to come up with creative solutions for better business management.

Partnerships

Looking for reliable partners was not an easy process. Gabrielle and Martine had to turn away some people. It took them over a year to establish strong partnerships. Now, they have Hospitality and Accountant partners in Haiti who take on most of the on-site workload.

"Our goal is not for us, the partners in the US, to solely run the business, our partners and staff in Haiti will also help run it," stated Gabrielle.

They also partnered with a non-profit organization for discounted diesel, with a company that builds solar systems, for reasonably priced batteries, and with the Hospitality School for training their employees.

"A lot of what is done in Haiti is based on who you know and how you go about it,” says Gabriele.

Using Technology

Overseeing the business from abroad may be risky. Gabrielle says they completely trust their partners in Haiti. In addition, their financial adviser has come up with a plan to have payment processes automated where the partners can control the flow of money in and out, purchases, acquisitions, and payments to home owners. They also have an audit system in place.

Adapting to the local environment

Safety. Perle Hospitality, a subsidiary of Perle group, has adapted three guesthouses to be their first Private Residence Hotel facilities to be launched in August. Gabrielle has a degree in civil engineering. She personally inspected the buildings to make sure they are safe, especially because of the past earthquake in 2010.

Electricity. The Group decided to have solar systems in place for every property in order to provide 24-hour electricity. It serves to also educate clients that "things work a little bit differently in Haiti".

One Business - Triple Taxes

You can get creative and optimize some systems, build mutually beneficial partnerships, and find innovative solutions to cut costs. However, your creativity may not serve you well when it comes to taxes.

Gabrielle and Martine decided to register the business as a local Haitian business, not a foreign company, because it would appear trustworthier to the local government and the community. 

There are no tax breaks between Haiti and the US, and the business owners found themselves paying triple taxes: Corporate income tax in Haiti; individual income tax in Haiti; and income tax on money brought to the US as an individual.

"If we didn't love and want to do what we are doing, we would not be doing it right now because a lot of our revenue is going towards taxes," says Gabrielle.

Take advantages of the US presence

Being in the US can also bring benefits. The Perle Group takes advantage of its US presence when in comes to Marketing, for example. They market the business in the US because this is where their potential clients are.

Gabrielle says that you have to have a certain personality to be able to run a business from abroad. If you are someone who is hands-on and you are not there to see every single detail, you may have a problem with that, especially if you don't have the right partners on the ground.

"What we are seeing right now is a big revival in my generation of people who want to go back to Haiti. Like the Haitian saying goes: La Kay se La Kay (Home will always be home)," says Gabrielle.

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