ECSSA: Turning Haiti’s Trash into an Economic Lifeline

ECSSA Operation Center

When visiting Haiti as a child, I was always baffled at how the streets housed so much trash. It seemed like every side road had a mountain of garbage where just about anybody had to pick their way around. Many years later, though trash heaps still fight to claim areas where creeks or rivers once were, the roads are becoming cleaner and the cleanup has created hundreds of jobs that were not there before. How did Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, turn their massive trash problem into a treasure trove? One millennial, Edouard Carrie of Haiti, took on the challenge while studying entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa. As a student he asked the question: how can we employ local people while clearing the streets of Haiti? Well as they say, timing is everything and as Edouard was developing his business plan two key events took place: the devastating earthquake of January 2010 and an internship.

While the 300,000+ population of Port-au-Prince was stunned by the havoc left by the earthquake, Edouard immediately started crafting ways to help his country work its way out of the rubble. Initially, he considered cement recycling. There was so much rubble and it needed to be cleared before recovery efforts could be pursued. It proved to be too big and too complicated, especially with experienced companies already working in the area. That’s when Edouard started to look at recycling other materials, specifically plastic.

How It Started

With Haiti on his mind, Edouard networked his way to an internship at a recycling facility in Connecticut. As an intern, he interacted with leaders of the recycling industry who came to know about Edouard’s desire for recycling in Haiti. Moved by his determination, a mentor discounted his extra compactor to help bring Edouard’s dream to a reality. Paired with an old generator from his dad’s factory, Edouard had the machinery needed to found Environmental Cleaning Solutions S.A. (ECSSA). But, as any entrepreneur knows, getting the equipment was just the beginning of the challenge.

Post-earthquake Haiti was flooded with businesses, non-profits, governments, and individuals all trying to help with the effort; creating very confusing market conditions. Banks weren’t lending and donations were earmarked for immediate relief items like tents and water, not capital for aspiring businesses. Not to be deterred, ECSSA quilted together capital from international grants and other funding sources to open their doors in the fall of 2010. After opening day, it has been a roller coaster for ECSSA. Success has been celebrated by earning Entrepreneur of the Year Awards every year they have been in business from his alma mater, University of Tampa (2010, 2012) and mega cell phone provider in Haiti, Digicel (2011). Challenges have arisen in the form of accessing equipment and handling supply. Through it all Edouard has built a social venture in a very risky market and made an impact in his community.

Nuts and Bolts

ECSSA aspires to do three things:

1) Eliminate waste in Haiti

2) Teach the Haitian community the value of waste

3) Educate the community about the importance of recycling

To achieve these goals ECSSA has developed a process where collection centers around the country weigh and pay those who bring in a variety of plastics and aluminum. Then the supply is sorted, processed, compacted into bales, and then shipped to international buyers.  ECSSA covers the transportation of the material as well as the collection bags to encourage as much participation as possible.

Such a logistics heavy operation requires the help of a dedicated staff. In Edouard’s case, the help of an assistant and his family are doing everything from logistics to keeping up the motivation despite the various challenges that arise in Haiti. Going forward Edouard is leading ECSSA as the largest plastic collector in the country and has learned a couple of life lessons. So what is Edouard’s biggest piece of advice? “Luck is a huge part of starting a business, but you have to go out and create your luck. Don’t get discouraged, because there will be good times as well as bad, but as long as you focus.”

If you want to learn more about ECSSA and the work they are doing in Haiti check out their website at: www.ecssahaiti.com.

A Tech Solution to the Student Debt Crisis?

The Online Platform that Can Revolutionize the Student Economy

Among all of the social challenges facing the U.S. millennial, student debt and career development is by far one of the greatest obstacles for this generation. When I was making decisions regarding where I was going to attend university, I trusted that the economy was going to be there for me to gain a respectable income. Graduation day 2009 presented a completely different reality, one that I know many U.S. millennials are currently living. This crisis has been likened to the housing bubble, and many experts fear that it could have serious impacts on the U.S. economy as millennials are rising to prominence in this economy.

Although the outlook is quite bleak on this issue, I had the opportunity to interview a 24 year old Pittsburgher who is challenging the nature of work for current university students – Mark Heckmann of Student InTuition. His startup provides a revolutionary approach to start chipping away at the student debt crisis.

How It Works

Student InTuition is an online platform that matches students with businesses that have short term projects that current university students can do – and pays them for it. Such a model allows current students to gain real work experience and businesses to hire students without the burden of searching for good talent. Current students simply log-on, create a profile, and Student InTuition does the rest.

How It Started

As Mark tells it, about a year ago he was sitting at a board meeting for his alma mater, Denison University, where the Board of Trustees was exploring the increasingly concerning situation facing university students: increased student debt and lack of actual work experience.

At the time Mark was studying at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College obtaining a Master in Public Policy and Management and found himself trying to find a solution to this very serious problem. He then joined a student-run incubator at Carnegie Mellon, IdeaLab, where Mark was able to have access to a solid feedback community comprised of other start-up leaders. Then, he took a Social Innovation course where he was able to develop the framework for the company and apply for a spot at Pittsburgh’s newly established Thrill Mill’s Hustle Den. While at the Hustle Den, Mark was able to get more professional, legal, programming, and office space support that helped create the legitimate social enterprise: Student InTuition.

Mark’s Lessons

Having a million dollar idea is one thing, but getting the timing just right can make all the difference. As Mark said:

A big part of launching a company is timing – are the market conditions right for such a thing to exist? Oftentimes you can have a great business concept, but the timing is incorrect, so you wait for the conditions to become favorable. In our case, investment in Ed Tech companies has been very strong, and the debt issue has been a prominent part of public discourse.

Not only were the external factors in his favor, but he had the rare opportunity to develop his business while in school with the tools his institution had to offer. Using the tools available, can be the support system any entrepreneur needs to get an idea off the ground.

When asked about what are the other advantages of being a young entrepreneur, Mark said:

…millennials understand the importance of being connected. The adages about networking continue to apply, and the companies that truly make change are ones who ask questions, seek feedback and promote their cause shamelessly. Our generation is better equipped to do those things than others.

Connectedness and timing, though crucial, are nothing for an entrepreneur without this element:

…it’s critical to recognize that you can have a voice on an issue, even a big one. There are many people with far more training, work experience and expertise than me out there, but they do not share the same interest, passion and empathy on this issue with me. And that becomes a distinguishable, credible mark for an entrepreneur – which their unique skill set and interest in a sector could create value in ways that have never been thought of before. But you must have the confidence to have a voice on an issue – absent that; you cannot be serious about your business.

If you want to learn more about Student Intituion, check out their website: http://studentintuition.com/ or follow them on Twitter @studentin2ition and post below if you know of any other great efforts on tackling the student loan crisis.