From Peoria to Africa

Empowering Entrepreneurs
by Ben Hafele
Haute Africa

By providing business training to entrepreneurs in Africa, Haute has produced tangible improvements in their lives.

Haute Africa is a Peoria-based 501(c)(3) charity that empowers entrepreneurs in Africa to grow their businesses and create jobs by providing them with management training and consulting services. Since I founded the organization in 2007, we have worked with 195 clients, who have used the knowledge and skills gained from our services to grow their businesses and create more than 300 new jobs in Africa.

After attending schools in Dunlap and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, West Africa, from 1999 to 2001. During these two years, I witnessed both the tragic consequences of grinding poverty and a multitude of well-intentioned “development” projects that failed to positively impact the situation. At this point, I became obsessed with identifying “what needed to be done” in Africa. After I left the continent, it took six years of thought, discussion, debate and travel before I arrived at my current understanding of the root causes of poverty in Africa (and anywhere else, for that matter).

The Need
To date, all of Haute Africa’s clients are located in Guinea, West Africa. Below, you will find a comparison of Guinea vs. the United States, using data from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Reports website.

If you are unfamiliar with the Human Development Index (HDI), the UNDP describes it as a “way of measuring development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income into a composite human development index, the HDI. The breakthrough for the HDI was the creation of a single statistic which was to serve as a frame of reference for both social and economic development.”

What Haute Africa does
“Haute Africa empowers entrepreneurs in Africa to grow their businesses and create jobs by providing them with management training and consulting services.”

This mission statement might sound a little strange to you. Most charities operating in Africa focus on well-recognized activities like digging wells or providing people with mosquito nets. So why doesn’t Haute Africa engage in these activities? It’s because Haute Africa focuses on wealth creation rather than poverty reduction. Unfortunately for Africa—poverty reduction programs abound, while wealth creation programs are scarce.

Poverty reduction programs are aimed at treating the symptoms of poverty and usually involve handouts of physical objects such as money, goats, wells, food or clothing. These well-intentioned handouts do a great job of reducing suffering in the short term, but do not build the capacity of their recipients. For this reason, when the handouts stop, the benefits of the programs also come to an end.

Wealth creation initiatives, on the other hand, address the root cause of poverty by building peoples’ capacity to start, lead or participate in viable businesses. These initiatives empower people to take control of their own lives in a dignified manner. They reduce unemployment and underemployment, and increase tax revenues. Wealth creation is the only sustainable solution to ending poverty. Think about it… do you know anyone who has become independent and successful by receiving handouts from charity?

You will notice that our mission statement makes use of the word empower. That is because we only work with existing business owners. If you are an existing business owner, you already have a passion for your business and are trying to grow it. We aren’t in the business of convincing anyone to be an entrepreneur that isn’t one already. We are only in the business of empowering people to do what they are already trying to do. Haute hasn’t grown any businesses or created any jobs in Africa—our clients have.

Another key part of Haute Africa’s philosophy is that we only have clients. We do not have “recipients” or “beneficiaries”, as many other nonprofits do. A management training or consulting company here in the U.S. (e.g., McKinsey, Booz) has clients—not recipients or beneficiaries—so why would Haute be any different? After all, our clients are highly intelligent and often masters of their specific trade. We ask our clients for feedback on how to improve our services, and our entire consulting process is built around listening to them and helping them to achieve their business goals. We don’t degrade our clients by acting like we know what is best for them.

Meet Noëllie
In 1990, Noëllie Taffame started a garment business that makes beautiful custom clothes. For nearly 20 years, she kept her business alive, but failed to achieve significant growth. In 2009, her business included one full-time employee and three part-time employees. The following year, Noëllie became a Haute Africa client, completing training in accounting, marketing, personnel and productivity, financial planning, inventory management and supplier management. Immediately following this training, she started to apply her newfound knowledge, and today, she has five full-time employees, five part-time employees and 35 apprentices—many of whom are young mothers. Amazingly, Noëllie’s story is not unique among our clients. iBi

For more information, visit hauteafrica.org.


Source URL: https://www.peoriamagazines.com/ibi/2014/jun/peoria-africa