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Haiti: An entrepreneur’s tale of corruption, voodoo, and hope

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I had no idea what to expect when I accepted Tim Perutz’s invitation to accompany him on a trip to Haiti. Tim is the CEO of Nimlok, a hugely successful exhibition stand provider. His turnaround of the family business has been well-documented – he took it from the brink of bankruptcy to a £100m-turnover business – but very little is known about his other projects; perhaps because it makes for a pretty sad story.

Tim met two Irish brothers, Andrew and Gregory Grene, when he was growing up in Chicago. They remained best friends for over 30 years. Andrew worked for the United Nations in the cause of peace in some of the world’s most precarious situations. His final posting was in Haiti, where he worked passionately, with unwavering courage and with an unshakeable belief in the country and the people of Haiti. Andrew gave his life, aged 44, in the service of peace, in the earthquake of January 12, 2010 when the UN HQ building in Port au Prince collapsed.

Tim and Andrew’s brother Gregory set up the Andrew Grene Foundation in his memory, to carry on his work in Haiti. This is how I came to find myself, bumping along a dirt road in Port-au-Prince, three years later.

I spent five days in Haiti and experienced countless shocks, alongside every conceivable emotion: joy; rage; frustration; pride; misery. My first shock was Haiti’s social hierarchy. The women do everything. They raise the children, they work and provide for their families, they cook and clean, and they give money to their husbands.
The Andrew Grene Microfinance project is aimed at helping these women to start and grow businesses. 

I met some of the women who are involved in the initiative, selling everything from melons to cooked rice and fish. I’ve mentored many entrepreneurs before, in the US & UK, and the entrepreneurs always talk about their growth ambitions, wanting to change the world. It was humbling to hear how these woman just wanted to live a bit longer, to be able to put food on the table and send their children to school.

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