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April 29, 2012

The Adventure Project: Sparking Innovation in Haiti

A new social project is changing the lives of Haiti’s poorest communities through cooking stoves, by Becky Straw.

via Esther Havens

“Excuse me Miss, but we were wondering…” he paused nervously, before looking at his two friends for support. I thought he was going to ask us for food or money, a quick handout to improve his day. The three men were extremely tall and imposing – my head was already spinning with excuses as to how I could politely decline when he surprised me by asking, “Are you hiring?”

The sun was sweltering. We were standing in one of the largest tent camps outside Port au Prince. Rows of white shelter box tents stretched as far as the eye could see. This entire camp was nothing more than an empty lot before the earthquake. Now, thousands of people were living here, with nothing to do.


It’s been 18 months since I was asked that question in the tent camp, and I wish I could say that everything is better. While many are still homeless, I have seen a lot of hope and progress in Haiti.

My co-founder and I were in Haiti to visit Lifeline Fund, an organization running a charcoal-efficient stove enterprise. While most nonprofits are in Haiti to provide relief to earthquake victims, Lifeline was there to create jobs. They have set up a local production factory, and have trained women to sell the stoves in local markets. Our nonprofit, The Adventure Project, was a perfect partnership for Lifeline. Our goal is to rally micro giving towards creating jobs that provide maximum social impact. Stoves are the perfect solution.

via Esther Havens

Charcoal-efficient stoves are a win-win for the environment and the economy. Everyday, three billion people around the world are exposed to toxic smoke from cooking over open fires – which is especially harmful to children. It’s the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes per day.  A stove drastically reduces emissions and saves six trees from being turned into charcoal every year. With 95% of Haiti now deforested, stoves are the perfect innovation to bring to the market.

Last week I asked one of Lifeline’s stove masons what was the best part about his job. He was quick to answer, “I can afford to send my little brother to school. He is 16-years-old, and my dream is for him to become an accountant.” In that instant, I was taken back to my day in the tent camp. Where my own prejudices assumed that those three men only wanted a handout. Instead, they were seeking something much greater. A job.

In Haiti, The Adventure Project has directly helped Lifeline create 17 jobs in Port au Prince.  We can’t wait to help create more.

About Becky: Becky is the co-founder of The Adventure Project, a nonprofit “adding venture” capital to support social enterprises in developing countries. In their first eighteen months, The Adventure Project has created 304 jobs in Kenya, Haiti, Uganda and India. They were recently featured in Fast Company, and Becky was one of four Social Innovators chosen by Nokia to represent Social Media Week