More Than Remittances: A Millennial Expat Calls On His Peers To Do Biz In Haiti
We first met Christherson Jeanty last week in our report on Haiti's grave political and economic crises. Jeanty was born in Haiti, grew up in Pompano Beach — and now lives in Haiti, where he owns a job placement and outsourcing firm. He also hosts an internet talk show, “Haiti Biz News,” on his YouTube channel SeeJeanty.
But we wanted to know more about why Jeanty stays in Haiti at a time when chaos is overshadowing commerce — and why he thinks other Haitian expats shouldn't back away from Haiti now, but engage it. Jeanty spoke with WLRN’s Tim Padgett from Port-au-Prince.
Excerpts from their conversation:
WLRN: Chris, you were born in Haiti in 1986 at the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship — when all this democratic promise lay in front of Haiti. But three years later your family immigrated to South Florida. Why?
JEANTY: The situation was very difficult for so many people in the country at the time, including my own folks. My dad was a traveling minister and was able to secure a visa to America. They did not see where democracy was going to take them in Haiti — and unfortunately Haitian democracy so far still has not changed their mind. My mom, though she is still very proud to be Haitian, I've told her, “Hey I'll buy you a plane ticket to come over here [to visit],” and she's declined the offer.
When you were growing up in Broward County did you visit Haiti often?
Yes. My dad on the other hand, he’s still very much gung ho about Haiti, and I would visit my father's native town up in the [southwestern] hills called Paillant. It was a very majestic, beautiful place where literally, you know, you can reach out your hand in any direction and there's a fruit tree and you can just take it and eat it. I even rode around on a little mule. I was just completely enchanted and I was like, man, this — I want this.
And as you got older, what did you find drew you back to the country?
Being Haitian always was a big part of my identity. I spoke Creole very often. And for a lot of Haitians that's really as far as it goes. But to me I felt it was necessary to really be part of the change that was needed in the country — because when I went there I saw the potential, I saw the people. But I just saw massive lack of investment. And I knew that on my deathbed I wanted to know that I provided X-amount of jobs to Haitians in Haiti.
I knew that on my deathbed I wanted to know that I provided X-amount of jobs to Haitians in Haiti. –Christherson Jeanty
Last year the Haitian diaspora sent $3 billion in remittances into the Haitian economy. But the problem is the vast majority of that money is going to day-to-day consumption, right? It's not something that's going to help drive the economy forward. OK: how do I build something that can employ and drive growth?
So you got a master's in economics from Florida State University. You obviously had a bright business future ahead of you here in the U.S. if you wanted it. But three years ago at age 30 you chose to return to Haiti to start a business there — and you did so when the country's political and economic situation was starting to collapse again. Why take that risk?
I was pushing 30, and I just finished paying off my student loan debt. So I quit my job working in data analytics — and I decide I'm moving to Haiti. I was having interviews with different business people in Haiti, and everyone told me they had difficulty finding good employees. And I said, 'We're in a country of over 70 percent unemployment and you're having difficulty finding people? Let's see what I can do about that' — because I know technology, social media, you know, I know LinkedIn is a thing. There needs to be a solution. So I opened up a staffing firm, Haiti Pro Staffing.
And soon I was made aware of a company coming in to Haiti to start a call center. They reached out and said they wanted me to help them find competent good staff. And I ran into a fellow, we’ll call him Jimmy — incredibly talented, very typical of so many Haitians here. He could speak English, Spanish, French — but again, jobless, right? And I recommended him to the call center. And it was a slam dunk. That company’s come back to me and said, hey, can I find them 10 more just like him?
But how do you sell Haitian expats of your generation on that idea of coming back to Haiti?
That's a big part of why I created my YouTube channel. I have one video entitled the top three things when dealing with political instability: how you overcome it. I don't sugarcoat anything.