“For my fellow social entrepreneurs, never fall in love with your solution. Fall in love with the problem.”
Duquesne Fednard believes that homegrown entrepreneurs need to fall in love with the problems facing Haiti, relying upon themselves rather than foreign aid to push their country into the future. Duquesne was born in a small Haitian town to a mother who had only a 3rd grade education and a father who could neither read nor write. Despite their own limitations, Duquesne’s parents instilled in him the value of taking initiative and the understanding that education would be his ticket to prosperity. Raised in a town that, even now, has no electricity or running water, little Duquesne housed an entrepreneurial fire whose brazen flames endure to this day.
At the age of 9, Duquesne was left alone to proctor his class’ exams. While his teacher desperately tried to woo the attractive teacher next door, the young entrepreneur seized upon this opportunity. Within weeks he had a full-blown business running, making sure students who wanted to cheat had to pay him, or risk the wrath of their lovesick teacher. By the end of the year, Duquesne had made enough money to buy himself a few toys.
At 16, Duquesne opened a print shop, his first formal business on the island, but he craved foreign exposure and experience. And so, he sold his print shop and moved to the United States, spending the next fourteen years on the fast track. He worked in a consulting firm, pursued a graduate degree, became an investment banker on the famed Wall Street, and even worked for Mayor Bloomberg. But his heart remained firmly tethered to Haiti.
He began to conduct market research on the existing organizations operating in Haiti and realized that his country had become overrun by NGOs, many of which had the best intentions but were only creating greater problems. The deluge of foreign aid not only made Haitians increasingly dependent, but also destroyed many of their jobs. Duquesne knew he had to provide a local solution to a local problem that could be implemented by the local community.
Armed with the knowledge that 95% of Haitians still use charcoal as their primary fuel for cooking, Duquesne identified the energy market as an easy entry-point. He hoped to address both the environmental damage caused by this reliance as well as the social disparity that saw 80% of the population living below the poverty line. The solution became D&E Green Enterprises. Bringing affordable, reliable and clean energy to these impoverished communities, D&E manufactures and sells energy-efficient cook-stoves and integrates its customers into a financing scheme that helps generate savings.
Duquesne excitedly designed his prototype in 2009 and turned all his savings into a new factory with equipment that would manufacture the cook-stoves. But in January of 2010, disaster struck. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, taking the lives of 220,000 Haitians and the homes of another 1.5 million. Duquesne’s factory and all the new equipment inside were reduced to a heap of rubble. When Duquesne finally managed to visit the site, he noticed that a 39 year old who had been trained to work at his factory was visiting its remains every day. The factory was supposed to provide him with his first formal job, and despite the fact that this dream of an improved life lay in ruins before him, the man continued to show up at the site, desperately searching for a sense of normalcy.
It was at this moment that Duquesne remembered that his project was bigger than himself. Beyond the destruction of his dream and the loss of all his savings, his business had been a beacon of hope for all those involved. And so, picking himself up by the bootstraps, Duquesne got back to work. Over the next three years, his workers manufactured the cook-stoves manually, working in flimsy tents as hurricanes came and went. By 2014, the factory was rebuilt and his company was back on track.
Knowing that he needed capital to scale his business was raising money, Duquesne applied to Agora’s Accelerator in 2017. His initial expectations were far surpassed. He gained access to a wonderful community and support system of fellow social entrepreneurs and was given the tools to get him closer to investment. Over the course of the past four months, a dedicated and perfectly-matched consultant helped him stay focused, maintain the structure of his business, and clearly define his priorities and responsibilities.
D&E today has sold over 125,000 cookstoves, directly impacting 600,000 lives. It has created over 60 full-time jobs and empowered over 100 local distributors. Duquesne hopes that, five years from now, there will be millions of low-income individuals on his savings-by-consumption platform, and D&E will be operating in three countries.
In the many ups and downs of his entrepreneurial journey, Duquesne has learned that, as a social entrepreneur, one must fall in love with the problem and not the solution. Believing himself incredibly blessed to be able to help others, Duquesne runs his company with humility, openness, and resilience, changing the world, one cook-stove at a time.
Learn more about D&E Green Enterprises at http://www.dandegreen.com/.