Lessons from the Patience Bank

It’s only a 4 hour flight from Montreal to Port-au-Prince, yet the difference between the two places is dramatic. At first glance, it appears Haiti lacks what is commonplace in Western countries – chain stores! Whereas the streets of cities in North America are dotted with chain restaurants, massive grocery stores, and recognizable clothing store brands, the only chains in Haiti appear to be the Patience, Confiance, Rapidite, Ste Philomene, and Toto “banks” that line the intersections in nearly every town. Contrary to being local branches of larger banks, they are little gambling centers where you can pick 4 – 5 numbers in the hopes that your numbers will be selected for the big win. Actual banks are far less prolific in this country.

With an apparent absence of recognizable brands, it is difficult as a Canadian to completely understand marketing in Haiti, a skill we as interns were brought here to assist with for the poultry project. Standardized values that we have in Canada like consistency, message cohesion, and recognition do not necessarily apply in Haiti where one cannot simply get a Big Mac. Fortunately Kency, our local employee is attuned to how the Haitian market operates, and has suggested marketing techniques that we would never have known to consider.

img_6201One such idea was radio advertising. Terrier Rouge has a local radio station, where for 500 gourdes, one can make an announcement. Kency has used this to advertise his chickens. Other ideas are as simple as making a sign in your front yard, or talking to people in the community to let them know that they have chickens. At this point, when most of the poultry project families are selling their chickens live, this marketing is the most effective for the market.

Nevertheless, since being in Haiti, it’s possible to see that some brands not only are able to exist, but thrive as identifiable products. Of course, Coca-Cola is one such international brand that has penetrated the market, but on a local level, the dairy company, Let Agogo is an example of how a brand can become a recognized and trusted name. The yogurt drinks produced by the company are delicious, inexpensive (25 – 35 gourdes) and best of all, local. According to the company website, local cattle farmers bring their milk to the small factories, where it is tested and then made into small yogurt drinks. They are widely available and satisfy my daily craving for probiotics.

Our goal for the poultry project is to have similar recognition. Soon we will have a logo. We have been collecting designs from children and will determine a winner of the design contest soon. That logo will be painted onto the exterior of our Agro-Shop that is scheduled to have a grand opening on November 23rd. There will be agricultural products at the store that families can use. Our store is linking up with the Jamaican-Haitian brand HiPro, which will boost our recognition and give us discounted rates for products. The profits will be returned to the families engaged in the poultry project who have created a cooperative.

We are also working with a group of 8 women who will be making jam with the abundance of fruits in the country. Although jam is not part of a traditional Haitian diet, there is an opportunity here to build skills, and hopefully create a product that can be sold in local stores or even exported to Canada for sale in specialty stores. I noticed that at a grocery store in Cap Haitien, they had jam, but not mango jam, so I see that there is an opportunity to fill this gap in the market.

As we continue on with the project, it’s a good thing that the Patience banks lining the streets are a not so subtle reminder for us that at times we must be patient. This applies not only for working in Haiti, but in life as well. Good things can take time, and sometimes even when you feel as if so much progress has happened; there will be minor setbacks. Keep posted to see our progress – in November we head to Port au Prince to meet Lloyd, David, Carol Ann, Rudy, and Mary who will be staying here for almost 3 weeks. We are excited to show our efforts to the Canadian team!