While many are focusing on the Haitian earthquake-relief initiatives of large corporations, small business owners are also striving to make a real difference in the face of some of the worst human suffering that has occurred in the Western Hemisphere in decades.
Marianne Darlak, senior director of marketing and public relations for the American Red Cross, says the muscle and generosity of the business community is essential at this time. “It’s really all about financial support,” she says. “Small businesses continue to offer support every day.”
The Haitian disaster has hit especially close to home for small business owners like Dieufort Fleurissaint, president of KeKe Insurance and Financial Services Group in the Boston suburb of Mattapan. Fleurissaint, who was born in Haiti, says he’s in constant contact with many other Haitian business owners in the greater Boston area about how they can come together and aid their homeland.
Echoing the call of the Red Cross, Fleurissaint says, “The most urgent need right now is money, to feed the people and to get medical supplies down there.” He says he and other local Haitian business owners (he estimates that there are some 150 Haitian-owned businesses in greater Boston) have met privately as well as with the Boston mayor’s office. Their goal is to raise as much money as possible. To help the public make direct donations to the Haiti relief effort, the group has opened an account at Citizens Bank in Boston.
While small business donations aren’t tracked nationally, it’s clear small businesses are doing their part. A business owner in Boston pledged $100,000 — then challenged his fellow Haitian business leaders to match it. (That’s compared to corporate donors such as Target, which pledged $500,000 in aid, and Hewlett-Packard, which is donating $750,000.) Others are providing services, including the business owner who offered to lend his meeting hall for a fundraiser.
It’s not just Boston’s small business community lending a hand. In West Orange, New Jersey, which also has a sizable Haitian community, the local Rotary Club — made up of some 50 local businesses — is finding ways to help. Local chapter president Peter Ricci, owner of architecture firm Arkitecture Plus, says that just as he and his fellow business owners aided victims of the tsunami that devastated Thailand in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina the following year, they’ll do the same to help those in Haiti. Ricci says that right now business owners in West Orange are putting together a plan that will include shipping earthquake victims kits that contain tents, bedding, and other basic essentials.
Meanwhile Angie Draskovic, the founder and president of Zoe Alliance in Ajax, Ontario, has especially close ties to Haiti. Her company sells handmade items from developing countries to support their economic development, and for years Zoe Alliance has done business with makers of a game called Ti Ta To 10 in the Haitian village of Bois de Lance.
John Bartlett, who operates his own, eponymous clothing store in New York, has decided to donate 10 percent of this weekend’s sales to Haitian relief, spreading the word via customers and his thousands of followers on Facebook. “We are all connected, and what is happening in Haiti is happening to us all,” he says. “The only way I feel I can help right now is to donate money, and if I can get my customers to spend a little bit more, then I can send that much more to help.”
Like Bartlett’s donating a percentage of sales, Draskovic says there are innumerable ways businesses can pitch in to help Haitian victims, including throwing fundraisers, banding together with rival businesses to “compete” to see which can raise the most money, and giving employees time off to volunteer.
Draskovic points out that being charitable today isn’t just the right thing to do: As a growing body of data has shown, it also happens to be good for business. “There are positive impacts to a business when a business person is socially responsible, both in terms of their employee loyalty and customer loyalty, and in terms of market share. People are more likely to purchase from a company that is socially responsible, and that is starting to influence buying decisions,” she says.
While encouraged by the tremendous, generous outpouring of support from the business community, Draskovic prods her fellow small business owners to not only get involved but to stay involved. “Let’s keep it sustained after the dust settles and it’s not on the front page every day,” she says.
Tony Case is a writer, editor, and blogger in New York who regularly contributes to AllBusiness.com, Advertising Age, and other publications.