At Futurpreneur Canada, we partner with a lot of great organizations to help us reach more young entrepreneurs and give them the resources they need to succeed when they launch businesses. One of these organizations is the LEADER Project, a student-run economic development program run out of Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario. Launched in 1991 to address the challenges facing the former Soviet Union, today the LEADER Project trains groups of post-graduate students to teach business and entrepreneurial skills to people in emerging regions.

We sat down with Zach Hamel, Executive Director of the LEADER Project and an HBA candidate at the Ivey Business School at Western University, to talk about the work he is doing to support entrepreneurs and to share some insights from his recent trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where he is working to grow the program through new partnerships. .

Tell us about the kind of content  that LEADER teaches through its courses.

It’s a three week course and each site is managed locally by a partner organization. In Haiti, our partner is the ETRE Ayisyen Foundation. All of our volunteer instructors teach the same curriculum, which uses proven methods such as case studies, lectures and individual coaching. We focus on various aspects of entrepreneurship and the end result is that each student creates a business plan and pitches their business to the group.

What do the classes look like?

Each class has people from different backgrounds, ages and genders and students often come with various levels of entrepreneurial experience. It is offered free of charge so as to be as accessible as possible for the students. Some will already have a business idea whereas some will be coming to the course with the goal of finding and developing a new idea. We often have students come with some entrepreneurship experience as they have been running a very small unregistered business like a souvenir or clothing stand.

A typical class size is around 30 students but the course in Haiti was so popular that we ended up teaching 70 students total. Once classes started, word got out and the students told their friends about it so we even had people dropping in and wanting to join part-way through the course!

What do you think is the biggest barrier to starting a business in Haiti?

Financing is the biggest barrier by far. Though micro-loans are available for those who are starting small, unregistered businesses, there is not much available for those who are hoping to launch larger, more structured ventures. International venture capital may be available for business growth but start-up capital is very hard to find and many people will end up relying on support from family and friends which presents its own challenges.

What was your personal goal for this trip?

I went in with a very open mind and my goal was to find passionate entrepreneurs who I could support through the course and even after the trip when I came home. I still hear from the students on a regular basis – they want to share their ideas for their business with me and get my feedback and advice. It’s really rewarding to see hear how excited and engaged they still are.

What were your top 3 highlights from the trip?

  1. Mathias Pierre who founded the organization that acts as our local partner for the program came to speak to the students and it was incredibly inspiring. Mr. Pierre is a popular figure who has raised himself up out of poverty through the launch of several successful businesses. He is currently running for President of Haiti and actually announced his candidacy while we were there!
  2. At the end of the project we hosted a media conference and the entire experience was very positive and powerful. It was such a great way to bring the project to a close.
  3. We were able to enjoy some free time to travel around Port-au-Prince and explore and witness the beauty of the country. My favourite part was driving out to what felt like the middle of nowhere to experience the Bassin-Bleu waterfall in the South East Region of Haiti. The water was so clear – I hadn’t seen anything quite like it.

What does the future of the LEADER Project look like?

In the coming years, we are looking to expand to new countries where we can provide the most value. So far, we have seen over 500 volunteer instructors and 7,500 alumnus go through the program and we look forward to building those numbers to impact more communities and support more new ventures for years to come.

Visit the Partners page on our website to learn more about Futurpreneur Canada’s partnerships, or find out how your organization can get involved with us through initiatives like Action Entrepreneurship and Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Written by: Amanda Filipe, Manager, Partnerships at Futurpreneur Canada

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