Haiti is awash in international NGOS struggling to help the earthquake survivors as best they can—and often, because aid organizations tend to be hierarchical and bureaucratic, social impact takes a long time to realize. But Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown's initiative, Choose Haiti, born out of a love of design and early encounters in Haiti prior to the disaster, has a relatively quick and straightforward solution to help survivors—pay them to pick up littered newspapers and bottles and recycle them into wearable bracelets, and then sell the bracelets in large retail outlets like Forever 21, Footlocker, Anna’s Linens, QVC, and Beyond the Rack.
Choose Haiti is a newly born initiative that has already amassed celebrity support from Rachel Bilson, Patricia Arquette, and others, and Eva Longoria and Kevin Bacon are likely to join the cause in the next couple of weeks. What the celebrities do is simple—flash the bracelets at Hollywood parties and get photographed wearing them. But the impact is huge. With plans to hire 3,000 Haitians living in tents, Choose Haiti is counting on selling at least 1 million bracelets.
The online storefront was just launched four weeks ago and already 10,000 bracelets have been sold, in no small part from their Facebook page—which amassed 20,000 fans in just one week. "It went viral," Brown tells Fast Company. "A lot of people just started commenting."
The Choose Haiti idea seems to have struck a chord—and to be honest, it strikes a chord with me as well. The idea of homeless Haitians having work, streets becoming cleaner, and then getting to wear a beautiful bracelet that is literally from the streets of Port Au Prince? Pretty compelling, and not many "crafts"-oriented organizations can claim the same relevance. We all have images stored in our memories of Haiti in disrepair and the thousands of Haitians in tents.
Choose Haiti is set to scale—and scale fast. Already Donna Karan is interested, as are aid heavyweights the Clinton Foundation and World Vision. Let's hope that the initiative is not only able to create sustainable outcomes for Haitians, but that the model can also be replicated in other countries during other similar crises.
Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.