By Larisa Karr
In mid-November, when Ruth Jean-Marie found out she was the recipient of the American Express grant program, 100 for 100, she broke down in tears.
“I’m not a big crier, especially not in public, but when I found out I won the grant, I just started bawling,” said Jean-Marie, founder and CEO of The August Project. “It was a really big burst of joy and a feeling I hadn’t been able to experience in a while.”
Jean-Marie is one Haitian-American entrepreneur, along with Nora Jeanne Joseph, who recently received support for their organization’s work focused on eliminating poverty in Haiti. Jean-Marie was awarded $25,000 from AMEX for her organization, The August Project, while Joseph received a fellowship from Vital Voices supporting her independent business, RADIKAL.
Both organizations seek to help impoverished communities in Haiti by providing a bevy of resources, including assisting people with establishing small businesses, creating literacy workshops, and addressing food security.
The August Project, a company founded in 2017, operates both in New York and Léogâne, a town about 18 miles west of Port-au-Prince. They host innovation workshops, where attendees learn more about development and entrepreneurship. The workshops in New York look specifically at learning about philanthropy, while the Léogâne workshops address solutions to poverty in individual communities.
“A large part of The August Project has to do with imagination and that means creating the world in which you live,” said Jean-Marie, who lives in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. “We’ll ask people in Haiti what the issues are that they are facing as a community and how we can move forward in solving them.”
Jean-Marie, a graduate of NYU with a master’s degree in global affairs, also co-created a Nike sneaker inspired by the Haitian Revolution, in 2019. After the sneaker sold out in four days, Jean-Marie realized she wanted to do strategic partnerships with the goal of raising money for development in Haiti.
Jean-Marie then laid out goals for 2020, but they were derailed by the advent of COVID-19. Now, with the recent grant, she is hoping they will be able to achieve what they initially set out to accomplish, including using the funding to establish The August Project as a nonprofit.
“We’re not blind to the reality that there is a lot of poverty and there are a lot of people who are not as educated as they can be because they’re more focused on survival than on education,” said Stephanie Baril, volunteer coordinator at The August Project. “We want to bring literacy to Haiti and help the people in the village become self-sufficient and capable of having their own jobs.”
“The idea for RADIKAL came to me after the earthquake in 2010, when I was getting phone calls from family in Haiti who were not just asking for money, but also asking for basic products,” said Joseph, who divides her time between Haiti and Long Island. “That kind of drew me down the path of thinking about how we could make things we need out of what we have.”
She said the fellowship from Vital Voices gives her a wider range of resources, including finance workshops and connecting her to different collaborators. With the financial stress caused by COVID-19, she pivoted to focus more on food security.
Both women and their staff said they are grateful for the recognition and funding.
“This AMEX grant is like a godsend essentially because we’re going to be able to accomplish things that we want to see happen,” said Baril. “The goal is to eradicate poverty and that’s no small feat to take on.”
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