March 13, 2013 by Speakers' Spotlight
How I Ended Up in Haiti with President Clinton
Barbara Stegemann is the founder and CEO of The 7 Virtues, the celebrated Canadian fragrance company that has received world-wide acclaim for its commitment to doing business with countries in distress, such as Afghanistan and Haiti. Barb recently traveled to Haiti with President Clinton, and wrote about her experience for The Huffington Post:
When I received an invitation to join President Clinton and a delegation in Haiti on an agricultural trade mission, I looked at the list of large philanthropic corporations from Heineken to Pepsi and at first thought, “How did I get on this powerful list of investors?”
I am not a big corporation. I run my small Canadian fragrance company, The 7 Virtues, and we buy essential oils to empower rebuilding nations. Clearly the Clinton Foundation actively engaged in Haiti since 2009 with a mission to champion economic development to rebuild this gem of a country, understands that small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) like ours are the backbone of the economy and we drive innovation. We are small. We are fearless. We can move fast. And countries rebuilding need us to buy from them. That’s why they invited us to join this delegation of 20 diverse investors.
After flying across Haiti in United Nations Helicopters together, it soon became clear to me what President Clinton has in mind to build upon the Clinton Foundation’s already significant investment in Haiti. Those humble roots of our small companies can move swiftly to support suppliers that will make Haiti blossom, grow and thrive.
Together, SMEs have the collective buying power to help reverse issues of poverty in nations around the world. Alone, my company may not reverse staggering issues of poverty, but collectively as a cavalry of businesses coming to do trade together we can make a difference in nations rebuilding.
Small business drives innovation both at home and with the suppliers we buy from in our global village. Buy their coffee, essential oils, candles buy anything you would purchase anyway and make a choice to buy it from the people and the land of Haiti and then take it to market.
The down-to-earth TV hosts, Chef Jose Andres and Chef Mario Batali joined the delegation and summed it up best when they tweeted how there is massive potential in Haiti and it rests with the people and agriculture. When a farmer can buy books and shoes for his children in a safe environment we will reverse issues of war, extreme poverty and hardship. But that farmer needs a job and buyers in order to empower his family.
Food crops can be used in anything from cooking to perfume! I began The 7 Virtues fragrance collection with a modest purchase of US$2,000 worth of legal orange blossom oil from my supplier, Abdullah Arsala in Afghanstan to support his work getting farmers off of the illegal poppy crop to make our perfume.
In our two years in the oldest department store in North America, The Hudson’s Bay Company we have sold enough perfume to invest $100,000 legal dollars in his community through our essential oil purchases by North Americans. Imagine 300 companies like mine! I do.
Abdullah is often on my mind. I think of him and his tribe and the boys and girls who go to school because of him and the employment and dignity he provides in his community. I know that our purchases are making a difference, but I had always dreamed of connecting him with other buyers in France to help fulfill his dream of providing half of the rose oil to the world’s perfumers. Who knew that I would find these people in Haiti? The Clinton Foundation did. They strategically invited perfume industry titans from France.
My young company has four fragrances that shine a positive light on nations rebuilding. For our Vetiver of Haiti fragrance, we launched on the United Nations International Day of Peace 2011, I sourced our Vetiver of Haiti, an essential oil through an NGO that matched suppliers in nations rebuilding with buyers, so I really never had to come to Haiti before.
Up until now, I could source my essential oils without traveling to Haiti or Afghanistan or the Middle East. That worked well until the NGO left Haiti and I could not connect with my supplier in Haiti. There is no finger pointing in this, that’s simply one of the challenges for any business wanting to do trade with nations rebuilding. There are many groups that do not stay for long periods of time due to funding restraints from their partners. That’s why I am so grateful to the Clinton Foundation. They stay the course. Your company can count on them and the people in Haiti can too.
From my first hand experience in Haiti, and my work buying from suppliers, I have never seen a more committed, generous group than the Clinton Foundation in staying the course. They have done 85 investor trade missions and their program under President Clinton’s vision is sustained economic growth. With each new program that is developed, the Clinton Foundation looks at long term sustainability.
Through the Clinton Foundation I was able to meet my new supplier of Vetiver, Pierre Leger, endearingly called The King of Vetiver. I can see why. We met at a dinner hosted by President Clinton and Haiti’s Prime Minister Lamothe. By the end of our time together, we had committed to purchasing his Vetiver and planned a trip back to visit his factory.
Pierre introduced me to another perfume expert from Grasse, France who has worked with him to create a vetiver oil that exceeds all past versions through a specialized distillation process that removes all allergens. This is revolutionary in the world! No other distiller is doing this with vetiver. All of this is right here in Haiti with partners in France and now Canada. And those investors from France are also interested in purchasing oils from my supplier in Afghanistan. It takes a village, a global village. And we cross pollinate our ideas like a world café in action!
I have fallen so deeply in love with Haiti. The people are spiritual. Everyone smiles with a deep faith in a better world. They take care of one another. On the second day of our tour, we visited Rebo, a Coffee Factory. They work with a partner that has created kiosks that vendors take out into the streets of Port au Prince offering coffee for twenty cents and peanut butter sandwiches for 23 cents. The socially responsible entrepreneurial approach to helping fellow Haitians in the hard hit urban centre is simply brilliant.
Gilbert Gonzales treated us to a tour of the Rebo coffee factory and at the end shared how they distribute their gourmet coffee to Japan and Europe and Canada and would love to connect with distributors and buyers around the world. So I thought I would share his contact info here so any buyers out there can contact him. Please visit www.rebo.ht and write Gilbert!
To learn more about the opportunities in Haiti to help rebuild visit www.clintonfoundation.org and follow @ClintonTweet