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Student founds Haitian non-profit

Charitha Isanaka | Tuesday, April 17, 2012

When biology graduate student Victoria Lam traveled to Leogane, Haiti, through Notre Dame’s Haiti program last year, she returned with an idea for promoting sustainable development in the Caribbean nation.

Lam said she began the non-profit organization Swell Cause, to help Haitians start their own businesses.

“There is a perception of Haiti as being subsistent on aid,” she said. “However, in going there, it was obvious that the primary requests were not for food, clothes or money. Rather, people wanted jobs. I started Swell Cause because I saw the need for long-term development and employment.”

Swell Cause aims “to provide the education, training, and support needed for Haitians to start sustainable, scalable businesses, which will not only provide jobs for the region, but will highlight Haitian goods, services and natural resources,” Lam said.

Lam said she believes a sustainable livelihood is the longest-lasting assistance a person can receive.

“Starting a program that provides entrepreneurship and management education seemed like a logical way to give people the tools to succeed,” she said.

Swell Cause will provide basic marketing, accounting, management and business plan classes, as well as skill-building workshops, to Haitians trying to open businesses.

A successful Haitian entrepreneur will mentor each aspiring business owner in his or her field of interest. Lam said participants would also receive capital, such as raw materials, space, marketing and facilitation of funding.

Lam said she hopes to eventually develop curricula and workshops tailored to specific industries, such as tourism, hospitality and retail.

“I would like participants not only to have a formal education, but also additional skills that would help their business,” she said.

Swell Cause receives support from social venture incubator Notre Dame’s Fellow Irish Social Hub and the Law School’s Community Development Project. Lam said Swell Cause also receives support from non-governmental organizations Surf Haiti and the Papaza Center for Handicapped Children.

Lam said she wants to create employment and economic stability in Jacmel, Haiti, by using surfing as a means of stimulating tourism and long-term development.

“We just had a Surf and Social Service event to introduce students to how surfing can be used as a means to lift people and communities up, and are currently trying to spread the word about our initiatives to gain some more momentum,” Lam said.

Lam said she hopes to visit Haiti to better understand the community’s needs and discuss how to decrease regional economic deficits.

“There may be glaring deficits in many areas of this country, but one thing they have an overwhelming stock of is resilience,” she said.