Meet Saheed Badmus, an agricultural economics whiz and semi-finalist in this year’s Dell Social Innovation Challenge for his startup business Mache.A. Born and raised in Washington D.C. and Maryland to a Nigerian father and a Haitian mother who spoke Creole around the house, Saheed visited Haiti often as a child while growing up. One trip in particular had a lasting impact, one that would transform his life as a member of the Haitian Diaspora in unforeseen and profound ways.
Saheed traveled to his mother’s childhood city, Jacmel, for the funeral of his great-grandmother, who passed away after a long and healthy life at the age of 108. Saheed commented on the voyage:
“I was deeply impressed by the imposing beauty of the countryside, the mountains, and the fields, far away from the urban center of Port-au-Prince. I felt like the inherent beauty next to abject poverty in Haiti was never really discussed; people only talk about the poverty.”
At the University of Maryland College Park, Saheed decided to major in agricultural economics to further his studies on countries like Haiti. He explained:
“Agriculture is common ground in nations like Haiti, where 40% of the labor force is employed within the agricultural sector. If you can have an impact on agriculture, you can alleviate a large portion of poverty and unemployment.”
Upon graduating with a degree from UM College Park in December 2011, Saheed interned during the summer at Caribbean Harvest in Croix-des-Bouquets, a charitable foundation that creates jobs in the local fishing industry by using modern aquacultural technology. Since completing his internship, Saheed has been working on his own business solutions in the Haitian agricultural sector. His idea was accepted recently as a semi-finalist in this year’s Dell Social Innovation Challenge.
Mache.A is an agricultural communications platform based on market information systems, which, in real time, disseminates pertinent agricultural information among farmers, from current prices of crops in local markets to weather advisories. Such information assists farmers in making optimal and profitable decisions based on easily accessible market information delivered in Creole.
Using cell phone technology—with which nearly every Haitian is equipped these days thanks to the work of Digicel—farmers can efficiently communicate with one another to determine what to do with surplus crops, whether or not they should transport their crops to sell in another market where prices are higher, and at what prices to sell their crops to either buyers or retailers.
“Haiti is lacking social capital between sellers and buyers,” Saheed says. “Mache.A will act as an innovative intermediary to bridge the gap in order to increase both consumption and export demand for local Haitian crops, in turn creating more jobs for Haitian farmers.”
This service will provide three different access points to guarantee democratic usage: SMS text messaging in Creole for farmers to communicate, voice recording for farmers who may be illiterate, and an online website platform.
In addition to this market tool, Saheed added two other innovations to his business model. First, he implemented a crop advisory service that provides technical feedback throughout the entire growth cycle of the crop. For example, farmers can send an SMS text message describing a pest problem and an agronomist will respond with a diagnosis and solution. He also created a mobile market that connects farmers who are not able to travel around Haiti to food aid and agricultural NGOs, food processors, and even the Martelly government’s school lunch program. The market will bring demand directly to the farmers through an innovative, hassle-free communications technology.
Such an intervention could potentially turn the tables on the humanitarian food aid community that imports the majority of their crops, even though Haitian farmers are equipped to provide most, if not all, of the needed supplies. Saheed remarks:
“Prices for Haitian products are higher than international products due to the lack of infrastructure and transportation in the agricultural sector. Communications solutions like Mache.A seek to break down these trade barriers by changing the local market rules and increasing demand for Haitian products.”
Connecting farmers with each other will assist them in making fully informed long-term business decisions based on the most up-to-date market information currently unavailable to the majority of farmers in Haiti. For example, Mache.A will focus on storage infrastructure to encourage farmers to not sell all of their crops at once, which saturates the market, but to spread out their sales to maximize profits over time.
“Of course, we are a business, and we will be making a profit,” Saheed stated. “But we are definitely not looking to make millions. In Haiti, it’s all about making money while also making social change.” Once launched, Mache.A will give farmers a free trial such that they themselves can see the tangible benefits of such a service. After the free trial, these services will cost $1 per month, or $12 per year, while potentially allowing farmers to earn exponentially more than that. “Like all social enterprises, Mache.A will not simply be making a profit to make a profit. We will reinvest in education in the agricultural sector, and we will provide training seminars to help our clients better utilize our services, which in turn, earns them more money.”
If you believe this innovative social enterprise will have a positive impact on Haiti, then you can help ensure that Mache.A has a future! The Dell Challenge includes two components: A grand prize competition that ends on April 22, and a voting competition that ends on May 13. Winners of either competition will be provided with startup capital to launch their social enterprises. We would love to see Saheed—an innovative member of the Haitian Diaspora who is moving back to Haiti with creative solutions for job creation and change—win that prize.
To vote, please register (this takes 30 seconds) by clicking the “Register” button in the upper right hand corner at http://www.dellchallenge.org/. Upon completion, follow the Mache.A link here (http://www.dellchallenge.org/projects/machea), and click on the “VOTE FOR” button underneath the business’s profile picture. Every vote counts! And of course, please share the page with your social media networks on Facebook, Twitter, and on your blogs.
Be sure to check back later this month to see if Saheed wins this year’s Dell Social Innovation Challenge! Thank you everyone for your support, and thank you Saheed for taking the time to share with BrandHaiti your vision for a better Haiti.
-Nick Stratton, President of BrandHaiti