"Can we not get together and do something bigger?" Diaspora members uniting in an investment Group

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • June 26, 2014 10:28 AM EDT
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Since the earthquake there has been many Haitian Diaspora initiatives to help the country. Some of them were bigger or smaller, successful or not, but one thing is certain: there is still a lot of work to be done.

Many members of the Diaspora want to help Haiti, but don't know how they can have a real impact.

Instead of trying to do something individually, 30 Haitian-Americans working for the same employer, an American government agency, decided to join forces in order to have a bigger impact as a group. Engineers, lawyers, doctors and even a U.S. military captain came together to form the Green Investment Group (GIG), an LLC registered in Maryland and now in the process of registering in Haiti as well. Their purpose is to invest in both the US and Haiti, generate profit, and create opportunity in their homeland.

"We look at it from the perspective that the Haitian Diaspora sends quite a bit of money to Haiti to support their family members. We have been doing that for decades, but in the long run how much of that has really impacted Haiti in a big way? I'm not sure if we can really pinpoint concrete tangible results from that. We know that the money we send feed family members, pay for kids to go to school, and pay their hospital bills and stuff like that, but is that all we can do? Can we not get together and do something bigger? Maybe open some businesses over there that will hire a couple hundred people or whatever and that will be more economical or that will have a greater economic impact on Haiti than each individual supporting family members and sending some money every month," shared Mardochée Chery, Chief Operating Officer.

Diversity approach to investing

GIG is taking a diversity approach to investing, in other words they don't keep all their eggs in one basket. They are currently investing in real estate, stocks and bonds, resort development, and alternative energy. As investors, they chose to invest in the US and Haiti since they see opportunities in both countries.

They have already invested in some properties in Florida and New York. With real estate, GIG's strategy is to buy properties, fix them up and rent them out, then sell them when the prices go up.

GIG is working on two other projects in Haiti: an alternative energy project that would help people replace charcoal as cooking fuel with propane that is more environment friendly; and a resort development project. They are looking at buying a piece of land in Cote des Arcadins and building vacation homes and a five-star resort in partnership with Azur Resort.

Right now GIG raises funds internally from its members for all their investments, but their goal is to reach the point where they could look for outside investors as well.

"We are working on revamping our structure so that we can legally solicit funds from outside investors or even do crowd funding," says Mardochée.

Bureaucracy Challenges

Some of the challenges GIG is going through in Haiti are related to bureaucracy.

"In Haiti the legal structure is not really there. It takes a long time for anything you want to do in Haiti. To register, to acquire a piece of property. You have to go through many extra steps to get anything done," shared Mardochée.

"We are currently in the process of registering the business. The length of time is really long. When it comes to Haiti you can be in the pipeline for up to six months. That's one of the challenges, there's a delay with every process. And believe it or not, it still works that if you know somebody that works in the back office that your stuff will get through faster, or you may have to get to the point where people will ask you to spend extra money just to get your papers out on time."

He continues:

"Land is a major challenge there because you have to go through several people and sometimes you are not sure who has the right information, and sometimes you have to be willing to take certain risk after you've done your part."

Another worry that investors have is finding competent workers in Haiti.

"In the future we will need people to oversee and manage our properties. Where are we going to get the right workforce to make sure that everything works smoothly? I think right now one of the issues back home in Haiti is that the workforce is not really up to speed, they are willing to work but they don't really understand the concept of how important it is to provide the best customer service. I think this will be one of our challenges, how do you train the workforce to be at the level where they can fully produce and make the business profitable," noted Mardochée.

Growth Opportunities

Despite the challenges, the group recognizes that Haiti presents great opportunities as well.

In the future, GIG sees itself expanding and accepting investments from Haitian Americans from all over the US and even from other parts of the world.

"What we would hope to get done, if the SEC* rules and regulations will allow us, is to get to the point where anybody, or especially Haitian Americans living abroad, can see us as the vehicle through which they can invest in Haiti. As an individual, you may not have thousands or millions of dollars to go and start a new business in Haiti, but we could get under that structure where anybody, Haitian American or else, can invest in Haiti through us. Through us they can make small investments of just a few hundreds of dollars, and they can invest in some serious projects whether it is a resort development or any other project that is going on in Haiti," says Mardochée.

 

*U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission - a government agency with the mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.

 

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