Haiti to host leaders of Latin America, Caribbean chambers

Haitian farmers harvest the seeds that are used by Kreyol Essence to make black castor oil, which is sold by the beauty-based company.
Haitian farmers harvest the seeds that are used by Kreyol Essence to make black castor oil, which is sold by the beauty-based company. Courtesy of Kreyol Essence

Yve-Car Momperousse was working for the University of Pennsylvania and studying for her graduate degree when a hair disaster led her back to her Haitian roots, and an unplanned career as an entrepreneur in the natural hair beauty business.

But it’s no easy feat producing tens of thousands of bottles of Haiti’s famous black castor oil, l’huile mascreti, in a country where even natural and organic ingredients can be limited, and suppliers have their own way of doing business.

“We all have the same motivation to get in there, a yearning to change Haiti,” said Momperousse, 32, the founder of Kreyòl Essence, which supplies eco-friendly beauty products sourced from the mountains of Haiti. “To see some success is what motivates me to get up everyday despite the challenges and the stress.”

This is just one of many lessons Momperousse, who lives in South Florida and currently employs 77 farmers and producers in Haiti, says she has learned since launching her beauty-base business in Haiti two years ago, and hopes to convey during a three-day regional conference by the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America in Port-au-Prince.

Taking place at the new Marriott hotel, Monday through Wednesday, the mid-year “Business Future of the Americas” will feature several speakers. They include Momperousse, who raised $1.5 million in start-up capital for her business, and is on the “Diaspora Motives for Investments” panel and former Bolivia President Jorge Fernando Quiroga, who will be Monday’s keynote speaker.

Philippe Armand, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Haiti, said his group had lobbied for a decade to host the event, which brings together the 23 American Chambers under the umbrella of the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America, representing more than 20,000 companies and 80 percent of the U.S. investment in the region.

“The private sector of Haiti is really committed to having Haiti join the new economic world order,” Armand said about the motivation behind his chamber’s persistent lobbying and its delight at finally having an opportunity to show regional business leaders some of the investment opportunities in Haiti. “We want to actually be open for business on the international level.”

The conference’s overall theme is “Diaspora Investments in Latin America and the Caribbean,” with the last day, Wednesday, specifically focused on the Haiti’s market and economy, said organizer Regine Rene Labrousse.

“This isn’t a one day regional conference that doesn’t talk about Haiti,” Labrousse said.

Labrousse said at least 300 business professionals are expected to attend over the three days and 14 chambers have already confirmed their participation.

“Jamaica, Trinidad, Mexico and the Dominican Republic are all coming with delegations, not just their executive directors but people who are really interested in doing business and seeing what’s going on in Haiti,” she said.

Since Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, the country has struggled to attract direct foreign investment, not just from non-Haitians but also from members of its own diaspora. Among the discussions will be opportunities in the tourism and agriculture sector, Labrousse and Armand said.

For example, a number of internationally branded hotels, including the Marriott have opened in Port-au-Prince since the quake, but there is a need for hundreds of additional hotel rooms in other parts of the country as it pushes tourism. Also, despite Haiti’s close proximity to the Turks and Caicos, Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, which it shares an island with, Haitian entrepreneurs in the agro-industry struggle to export their products there.

As a result of these realities, Labrousse said one of the event’s main goals is to showcase the major investments that are already taking place and “create an enabling environment for deals to happen.”

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