Business

New Story startup focuses on world-changing charity, one Haiti home at a time

The New Story co-founders: from left: Mike Arrieta, Matthew Marshall, Alexandria Lafci and Brett Hagler in front of one of the tents in Lévêque, Haiti.
The New Story co-founders: from left: Mike Arrieta, Matthew Marshall, Alexandria Lafci and Brett Hagler in front of one of the tents in Lévêque, Haiti. New Story

Brett Hagler saw the squalid and unsafe conditions that Haitians live in every day in vast tent cities. And now with the power of the crowd, his tech startup is moving the families one by one into homes of their own.

Hagler, who grew up in Coral Springs, started New Story, a nonprofit crowdfunding site in which 100 percent of donations go to building small, hurricane-resistant concrete houses in Haiti. Seven months ago, he and his small team quickly built a website, newstorycharity.org, and tested the model with one family and one home. That worked and New Story kept going.

Now in San Francisco and part of the summer class of the well-regarded Silicon Valley accelerator Y-Combinator, Hagler and the team have finished 62 homes and are scaling up with an ambitious summer goal: 100 homes in 100 days. Right now, New Story is focused on a large tent slum in Leveque, Haiti, 40 minutes from Port-au-Prince.

“We are moving the families from the tent slum to a new community nearby,” said Hagler, New Story’s CEO. “We have 152 to go. Our goal is to deplete that as soon as possible, and when we’ve done that we are starting a new story for these families.”

New Story works like this. A family needing a home is featured on newstorycharity.org. For example in one current campaign, you could meet melon farmer Marie Odette, who has been living in a tent and separated from her children because of the tent city’s unsafe conditions. Once the family is funded — when it reaches $6,000 in donations for a 388-square foot, three-room concrete home built to Miami-Dade County building standards, Hagler says — Haitian construction workers get to work and a home with a front porch and garden for the family goes up within about two months. Funders, whether they donated $5 or $6,000, see the progress of their project every step of the way, and are sent a video on move-in day. New Story partners with Mission of Hope, a local organization that has been building homes in Haiti for 16 years.

Hagler started New Story with his best friend since middle school, Mike Arrieta. Both went to high school at Coral Springs Christian Academy, graduated in 2008 and then went off to different colleges (Hagler to Florida State and Arrieta to Alabama). Arrieta is also living in San Francisco and is on the board of New Story. Also on the team: Matthew Marshall and Alexandria Lafci.

Hagler and Arrieta visited a tent city as part of a personal trip in the summer of 2013, three years after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 300,000 and left 1.5 million homeless. “You don’t have a safe home in this environment — theft, child abduction, rape. Kids couldn’t go to school. Parents couldn’t work a full day because their kids weren’t safe,” said Hagler. “That broke my heart.”

Their solution: to give the Haitians new homes and change their life trajectory. “The best way people can help is to fund a home,” Hagler said.

New Story is focusing first on Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Building permanent houses has been the biggest challenge in Haiti since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, and problems with housing and fund-raising efforts have been well documented, including a recent report by ProPublica and NPR that the Red Cross had raised $500 million but only built six homes. Not surprisingly, people may be wary of fundraising efforts in Haiti, even though about 60,000 are still living in tents five years after the disaster. New Story attempts to make the process as transparent as possible, not only with frequent updates to donors but a cost breakdown on the website. Said Hagler: “Don’t let headlines deter you from giving because these people still need homes, and we are going to do it with full transparency and accountability and show it to you.”

New Story says 100 percent of donations ($372,000 so far) go to the projects; New Story also has raised money from its “investors” — so far it has raised $140,000 for operations and administrative costs, most of that from Y-Combinator.

New Story was set up as a nonprofit, but Hagler says it operates no differently than any of the high-growth for-profits in the Y-Combinator accelerator or elsewhere. The goal is revenues, lots of them, and rapid expansion to other areas of the world. The only difference is that all the revenues are going to the families and New Story’s investors are getting a social ROI, he said.

New Story plans to expand to help other areas in the future but that summer trip to Haiti in 2013 left a lasting impression on Hagler: “New Story will always be in Haiti.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Find out more

To help fund a family in Haiti: www.newstorycharity.org

For more information: Reach Brett Hagler at brett@newstorycharity.org

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