Lighting up Haiti after Hurricane Matthew

On 4 October 2016 Hurricane Matthew, a category four hurricane, ravaged the south of Haiti killing approximately 900 people, destroying 200,000 homes and leaving 1.4 million people in need with damages estimated at US$1.89 billion.

Groupe ECHO Haiti, a youth-led non-profit I co-founded nine years ago, was left with a very simple question: “Will we watch and do nothing?” We felt that we had to act and that providing electricity was an essential part of the solution. Not only does it power light to make villages safer - it's also a means of communication through radio and by keeping phones charged, as well as a way for health centers to keep medicines cold and stay open late in order to enable communities to find 24/7 relief to their pains. It was a unique opportunity for us to bring help to the victims of the hurricane while promoting renewable energy in Haiti.

After two months of campaigning, we had successfully raised $24,000 USD. We then spent three days in the field and traveled to seven different communities affected by the hurricane to distribute solar lamps with a radio and the capacity to charge phones to 500 Haitian families. We also installed solar systems in four health centers, each comprising two 300 watt solar panels, a 2000 watt inverter and four 12 volt-batteries.

At the beginning of this project we had none of these resources. We ended up positively affecting lots of lives because we were able to engage our networks.

We first wrote down a clear and measurable objective and invited other youth organizations in the country to join us in order to add value to the initiative. Then we designed a high-quality video campaign that we paired with a low-cost crowdfunding website. Next, we reached out to our personal networks. One Young World was the first to share our video, then ambassadors around the world started sharing the video and contributing to our campaign. Afterwards, friends and institutions started doing the same! I personally reached out to Groupe ECHO Haiti’s network and other communities I am part of, including Fulbright, American University and other initiatives in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. That video reached a total of 50,000 people through various networks and the response was incredible! Because the message was clear and the goal measurable, we watched the blanks filling themselves out from fundraiser events in Germany, Ottawa and New York to personal donations and corporate checks. We also got in-kind support from energy companies in Haiti. Among all, the most touching contribution came from a couple that chose to dedicate their wedding registry to our project showcasing the link between love and light.

This experience left me humbled by all the trust instilled in us and made me so grateful for everyone’s help!

There is no standard way to engage your network but here are five pieces of advice inspired by my journey:

1. Money is not the only way someone can help you

People often expect just money from others when they start a campaign. It’s so wrong! You want as many people to know about your cause and the person who shared is as important as the one who contributed. Also, not all the money you will raise will be online (We only raised US$4,000 online for this project). It can also be from a contact that someone that saw your campaign will share with you. Be available to everyone. You never know who will help.

2. Show passion and be consistent in the type of projects you work on.

People are more engaged when they know the bigger picture. Everyone is somehow tackling similar issues around the world so your network needs to believe that you are the one that can help make the difference they want to see. They have to have faith both in your passion and your capabilities. For the past ten years, my focus and passion have consistently been around youth leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship. My network always expects me to act in these directions so they are never surprised by my projects.

3. Do not only engage when you need support. Support other causes too.

Stay in touch with people after your projects are completed. Keep sharing ideas and offer your help to their causes too. That way, you will fuel a more genuine connection with others that will naturally bring them back to you when you need them again.

4. Increase your exposure by being part of as many networks as possible

Reognition is a strong element of crowdfunding so it’s important for you to increase your exposure to tap into these secondary networks. Join as many networks as you can without overwhelming yourself. Networks can come from schools you attended, events/programs you took part in or simply organizations you joined. Be unforgettable!

5. Use social media to engage and to show the results of your work

The strength of our campaign was in the quality of our communication. Social media is extremely important and there is so much information being shared there. Try to always keep the quality high and the message clear. After all, everyone likes to see their contributions being used for a greater good, so show them!