Haitian Startup Succeeds While Answering Need for Cleaner Cooking

Kalinda Magloire, CEO and co-founder of SWITCH S.A., is a USAID LEAD grantee
Kalinda Magloire, CEO and co-founder of SWITCH S.A., a producer of clean cookstoves
Grants help entrepreneurs grow businesses, generate income
“It forced us to really think about how to translate our ideas into something concrete. We couldn’t leave anything up to chance. We had to plan.”

July 2015—The growth of small businesses is essential for Haiti’s economic development, but few financial services exist to help connect them with needed credit, preventing many would-be business owners from ever realizing their aspirations.

Kalinda Magloire is CEO and co-founder of SWITCH S.A., a local startup providing a market-based solution for Haiti’s environmental crisis. Now three years into operation and running a growing business, she recounts how it all started with a grant from USAID.

In 2012, Magloire had an idea; what she didn’t have was a plan. She knew deforestation in Haiti was a staggering problem, with roughly 30 million trees cut down each year. Significant numbers of these trees are destined to become charcoal and used for cooking fuel.

This practice is so deeply entrenched in Haitian society that, at first, finding a solution seemed doubtful. But when Magloire began to examine the issue from a business perspective, the problem appeared simple. It boiled down to supply and demand.

“Cutting off the supply was not a viable option in Haiti,” she says. “But I could affect demand.”

In her view, most Haitians would prefer not to cut down Haiti’s forests, but without an affordable alternative to charcoal, they had no other choice. She decided her company would provide an alternative: cleaner, more cost-efficient cookstoves fueled by liquid petroleum gas (LPG).

Magloire was keenly aware that aspiring entrepreneurs in Haiti face significant challenges. “Then I was surfing Facebook one day,” she says, “and I saw a post about a new USAID program that was holding a competition for business ideas. The timing seemed like fate.”

The program, called Leveraging Effective Applications of Direct Investments (LEAD), maximizes investments from the private sector by providing matching grants to small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises. It also provides technical assistance to local enterprises so they can attract capital, grow, create jobs and generate income.

LEAD held its first business plan competition in 2012 for entrepreneurs and investors with an interest in launching businesses in Haiti. The prize was a matching grant of $50,000-$200,000, meaning winners needed to supply funds at least equal to the size of the grant.

During the application phase of the competition, LEAD staff helped contestants prepare their business plans, which contestants later presented to a panel of judges. For Magloire, the experience was transformative.

“It forced us to really think about how to translate our ideas into something concrete,” she says. “We couldn’t leave anything up to chance. We had to plan.”

Winning LEAD’s business plan competition boosted Magloire’s business beyond providing essential startup funds. She also earned new credibility with financial institutions.

“With the backing of USAID, I had new confidence and was able to create new opportunities for my business,” she says. “When I was just starting out, I couldn’t get a loan to buy a fleet of LPG tanks, which limited our potential for growth.”

Today, SWITCH is the only clean-energy cookstove company in Port-au-Prince offering a full-service startup kit, which includes the cookstove and the LPG tank.

In its first three years, SWITCH has sold over 930 commercial stoves to street vendors and converted 78 schools and nearly 2,400 homes from traditional charcoal stoves to LPG stoves. With the launch of its diaspora marketing program this August, they expect to double their sales and increase their profits by 40 percent. 

For Magloire, it’s a source of pride that her business is protecting both the environment and the health of Haitian people.

“It was shocking,” she says, “to learn just how much our cookstoves improve the lives of other women,” who routinely suffer health complications from exposure to open flames and smoke. “As a woman,” she adds, “that is very empowering.”

The LEAD program runs from 2011 to 2017.


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