Becoming a Machann Through Theatrical Measures

A machann in Haiti is a person who sells goods to make a living, usually in an outdoor market or storefront. They are businesspeople, often women, and they sell charcoal, fruit, electronics, health tonics, cold drinks, and just about everything else you can imagine. Machann in Haiti have developed creative strategies to respond to unmet needs in the market, collaborate with other sellers, and collectively establish specific calls for different goods (picture “Get your popcorn here!” in many variations and inflections). Being a machann is sought-after labor, but like starting any small business, it can be difficult, especially in Haiti’s tough economy.

A mother who has recently graduated from Second Mile Haiti’s Malnutrition Treatment program with her now healthy daughter and successful small business

A mother who has recently graduated from Second Mile Haiti’s Malnutrition Treatment program with her now healthy daughter and successful small business

Second Mile has been supporting caregivers to become machann through the small businesses portion of our Malnutrition Recovery program since 2014. In this time, over 450 motivated adults, most of whom are women, have started enterprises that will sustain their families economically and contribute to the local economy.

We’ve seen staggering success rates in the business program, no doubt thanks to our enthusiastic staff’s commitment to individualized and culturally-relevant adult education. (If you want to read more about the innovative educational program that Second Mile psychologist-educators Louino and Stael have created, check out our Community Education page.)

We know that it’s working because we have seen families who have graduated from the Malnutrition Center during close to 7,000 follow-up visits, and only 1.2% of their children have relapsed into malnutrition. But Second Mile Haiti doesn’t believe in the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” We believe that there’s always room for improvement!

Caregivers at Second Mile Haiti’s Malnutrition Treatment Center role play in preparation for opening their small businesses

Caregivers at Second Mile Haiti’s Malnutrition Treatment Center role play in preparation for opening their small businesses

We have the qualitative data to show that the business program is an important part of the amazing lasting change that we see as a result of the Malnutrition Treatment program. Families benefit from the whole package: life-saving medical interventions, adult education in literacy and health, and support in starting a small business to put their new lessons to the test in the real world. We wanted to understand how these separate parts work together to create a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts. So we decided to start collecting more quantitative data on how caregiver graduates’ businesses fare over time.

We started brainstorming ways to measure the success of small businesses in a way that would be beneficial to our continued understanding and analysis as well as to the caregivers. Then a lightbulb went off! What if we created a grading rubric that we used together with the caregivers so that they could self-evaluate and offer helpful feedback to their peers? We decided to try it out. Stael took the lead on creating a rubric and a plan, and we came up with a pretty neat role-playing activity. Well, we thought it was neat, but we needed to know if the caregivers would agree!

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This past month we held the first focus group to test out the new idea. Twelve caregivers participated, each receiving an assignment to gather props from around the Center that could act as their store goods. After a scramble to find materials, one by one the caregivers acted out a business transaction with a “customer” (another caregiver). Then Stael presented a couple scenarios to see how the businesswomen might react:

What if you don’t have enough change for the customer at the end of the transaction? What would you do if you keep receiving requests for an item that you don’t currently stock? What if a customer is being impatient or even rude?

The caregivers found it helpful to walk through the process of running their business and to visualizing and practicing skills that they will need to be successful machann. As they move forward, we will to use the same familiar rubric and ask them to self-assess their successes and challenges over time. We hope that this will be a helpful way for both Second Mile and the graduated caregivers to think about what success looks like and then manifest it in a measurable way.

Labapen bouyiiiiiiii!

(boiled chestnuts for sale!)