Elevating Haiti through a Sustainable Business Model; with Josh Goralski, founder of Unlocking Communities

Cassi Lowe
Sep 17, 2019 · 4 min read

Unlocking Communities founder, Josh Goralski, has spent an extensive amount of time in Haiti. He’s seen the challenges that Haitians face, and he’s working to elevate Haiti by putting the economic power into the hands of Haitians themselves.

Unlocking Communities provides resources and training for Haitian entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses. These entrepreneurs help create healthier communities by selling money-saving water filters and clean burning stoves to people within their communities.

Read the interview below to learn how Josh is implementing this social enterprise model, and his advice for other social entrepreneurs.

Tell me about your organization and the work that you do.

Unlocking Communities works to empower rural Haitians to start small businesses to sell water filters and clean burning stoves. We chose those products because they are products that Haitians are spending a lot of money on — buying charcoal and buying water. There are simple solutions out there that have lacked getting into the hands of the people that really need them. So our model both helps to bring business education training to our sellers and also products to people who need them.

How did you come up with the idea to start this?

I came up with the idea to start Unlocking Communities through a lot of trips to Haiti, both starting when I was a child and since then. The ability to see and walk with communities and see that charity wasn’t the right answer. Simply giving someone a water filter wasn’t the right answer, because it was denying their dignity as a person.

In talking with a lot of Haitians over the years, they said, “We want business skills. We want job training. We want a way to help ourselves, help our community ourselves.” And they see the opportunity businesses have. They see businesses functioning, and they’re like, “We want a business, too. We want some type of business.” And at the same time, they’re like, “Help us get water filters. Help us get clean burning stoves.”

I’ve been to Haiti now 17 times, and it’s been a journey. The first trip was in 2009, and very quickly after my first trip, I saw the power of these types of models. I have worked with community partners, now seven, and 10 by the end of the year, to implement this model.

What was your background originally?

My background originally is all in nonprofit management and a passion for accounting and finances. So how do you financially scale models that are proven effective solutions to helping people move out of abject poverty?

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far throughout this journey of starting Unlocking Communities?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is how interconnected the world is. It’s the people that step forward to say, “We’ll help this dream of the Haitians come true here.” And the second thing that I’ve learned is how much trust is impactful in Haitian communities. Our whole model of selling the filters and selling the clean burning stove is all built off of a system of trust.

These entrepreneurs go to their friends who they trust and they say, “Would you like to buy one of these systems?” They trust that they will pay it back to them. If they didn’t trust them, they wouldn’t offer them that. So the ability to sit down and have that conversation of trust and to really realize that now over 400 systems have been sold, and all and been repaid on a trust basis is really impactful.

What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?

Partnership. Partnership and empowering the people in the population that you’re working with. The reason our model works is that it’s not me running the model as a foreigner. It’s Haitians running the model for and by Haitians. I’m just the man behind the scenes making it happen. So I’m making the financing and growth happen, but they’re the ones each day doing the hard work, and I’m merely here to support them however I can.

What is your vision for the future, either for your organization or for the world or both?

The future is to scale models like these that truly put economic power in the hands of local communities. And through this, we hope to reach a million Haitians in 10 years. And we believe with scaling our model rapidly over the next 10 years, we will be able to do so. Our goal within three years is to be in 60 communities and have impacted over 50,000 lives, saving at least 5 million in economic savings for the Haitians.

What action do you want readers to take?

I encourage all readers to think about a social enterprise. To think about how would you want to be treated if you were in this situation. Would you just want to be given something or would you want an opportunity to grow? To grow and impact your community, and also impact your own family’s life. And through this process of selling systems, we’re not only impacting the lives of sellers. We’re impacting the lives of all the families who buy one.

So I encourage readers to check out our website UnlockingCommunities.org. Follow us on social media. Every financial gift, no matter what the size is, allows us to grow and expand our model as well.

A lot of people think that Haiti’s really far away. I remind people that Haiti is only 90 minutes by air from the United States, from Miami, Florida. Haiti is a very close neighbor of ours and thus increases our obligation to do something about what’s going on in Haiti.

Find Josh Online

Unlocking Communities: https://unlockingcommunities.org

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/josh-goralski

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