Today, we’re speaking with Josh Goralski, Founder and CEO of Unlocking Communities, a nonprofit that gives Haitians hands-on experience in running a small business, using locally-sourced products like water purifiers.
We spoke to Josh about how his company’s community-based model results in true empowerment for Haitians to take back their health, their future, and their country.
First, a little bit about Unlocking Communities.
Haiti is the most economically poor country in the Western Hemisphere. Two-thirds of Haiti’s 10 million citizens live in poverty. As a result of the prevalent poverty, as well as underinvestment in infrastructure and other environmental and political issues, most Haitians live day-to-day and are unable to save or plan for the future.
By the end of 2021, Unlocking Communities will have launched 60 community businesses impacting over 50,000 lives and resulting in at least $5 million in economic savings.
What got you interested in empowering global communities? Any specific story that sparked your idea for the project?
Unlocking Communities is passionately is working to provide Haitians the tools to be their own catalysts for change. To make quality and long-lasting economic impact in communities, our model gives aspiring entrepreneurs a solid foundation by training them in business fundamentals.
Once their training is complete, they are given access to in-demand, environmentally beneficial products (water filters and clean-burning stoves) that they can earn a commission from selling on a micro-loan. The entrepreneur then reinvests in additional inventory, and the cycle continues to expand.
This expansion provides a business model that generates income, offers examples of entrepreneurship and savings, and it produces substantial social value through regenerative and sustainable businesses. We are now in 12 communities, have sold over 800 water filtration systems, and trained over 150 entrepreneurs.
A Haitian stayed with my family when I was 8 years old and that opened my eyes to a country that I had previously not known about. This led to a relationship with that Haitian that is still close today.
Haiti needs social enterprises. Haiti has many challenges that range from vulnerability to natural disaster to water sanitation issues. I’ve come to understand that what Haitians want is simple: an improved quality of life and to address fundamental needs that are merely at a level of basic human rights. And more specifically, many people in Haiti want to find ways to help themselves.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 2/3 of Haitians living in poverty. 51.5% do not have access to learn water and nearly all Haitians cook with charcoal. The country also has a high infant mortality rate of 51/1000 and life expectancy is 63. Additionally, Haiti is the 6th most likely country to have a natural disaster.
Putting economic power into the hands of the local community is really inspiring. What is the general reaction from communities when you begin working with them in this way?
They are so excited for multiple reasons, first to be able to have access to our Business Basics training and then secondly for the products that we sell, water filtration systems and clean-burning stoves.
When a family switches from buying bottled water to using a water filtration system, they save around $50 annually and when they switch to a clean burning stove from traditional cooking methods, the family saves around $150 annually.
How has your project helped shift the mindset of money within these communities?
When someone lives in poverty it is hard to budget and make financial decisions that are best long-term. Through our community entrepreneurs Unlocking Communities gives families the ability to purchase a water filtration system and clean-burning stove on a loan that fits within their budget.
What does the overall process look like? How do you choose what community to work with and when? What are the next steps?
In the Unlocking Communities model, a Community Partner creates a Community Business by giving aspiring entrepreneurs a solid foundation through training in business fundamentals. After training, we give these growing entrepreneurs access to in-demand, environmentally beneficial, and long-lasting products (water filtration systems and clean-burning stoves) that they earn a commission from selling.
When there is no longer a need for these products in the community the loans are repurposed to fund their own business ventures resulting in cyclical economic growth. This has proven to be successful in instilling a sense of dignity, empowerment, and ownership in Haitian communities. Since 2018, over 800 water filtration systems have been sold and over 150 entrepreneurs trained.
What is the biggest reward for you?
Seeing locals complete our business basics training program and the sense of accomplishment they get after selling the systems.
What is the biggest challenge?
Haiti offered a multi-layered challenge, political, social and economic. Helping families understand how they can afford one of our products and that they should not wait in case they were hoping for someone to hand one out for free.
Any plans to broaden beyond Haiti?
Yes, we are actually right now looking at which countries would it make the most sense to go into next.
When you’re not traveling, what Deskpass spaces do you like most?
Novel Co-Working in the Chicago Loop is my go-to space although with so many donor meetings I am normally not there a whole day. Free tea, a great atmosphere, some natural light and I can always find a seat.