Everyday Icon: The Artisan Businesswoman

Upon visiting Haiti, we were delighted to meet Nathalie Tancrede and learn about her work with Artisan Business Network . Today we are honored to share her inspiring words on service, sacrifice, resilience and hope.
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Image Credit: Michael Newsted 

Image Credit: Michael Newsted 

We had the sincere pleasure of meeting Nathalie Tancrede during our trip to Haiti with Tribe Alive founder Carly Burson—and it became instantly clear that we should profile the Artisan Business Network Director. Luckily, she was amenable to sharing her words of wisdom. But herein lies the problem: how do we successfully convey the passion, enthusiasm and love this woman brings to her job, her life and country in one interview? How do we illustrate all that we gained by being in her presence for a mere three days? 

Nathalie is a rare and lovely breed: kind yet unapologetic, a leader with a bleeding heart, a mother who is defined by a myriad of roles. Yet it is not her impressive career path nor her choice to return to her home country (after a devastating natural disaster) that astounds us most, it is the sheer joy she brings to all she does and everyone she meets. Her intentions are clear: through her work with ABN Nathalie is in Haiti to help, foster, educate and grow. 

Read on to hear more about why Nathalie epitomizes everything we celebrate here at Clementine Daily, and why we are proud to not only call her an Icon but also, and most importantly, a friend. 

Nathalie, your professional path is both unique and inspiring. Tell us a little about your trajectory, its unexpected turns and how you found yourself back in Haiti working for ABN.

My background is in business management, finance, operations and human resources. I spent many years working in the banking/investment management field then moved on to operations and HR. After the 2010 earthquake, I wanted to help but didn’t know how. Through the Internet, I found Willa Shalit, CEO of Fairwinds Trading who had brought Macy’s to Haiti right after the tragic event. I contacted her and asked if she could use my help translating while in Haiti and made plans to visit for a few days in January 2011. 

Willa and I met at the Oloffson Hotel the same day I arrived in Haiti. We instantly connected and she told me about the Heart of Haiti Macy’s program. They were looking for a director at the time and she offered me the position. In my mind, this was a temporary job. Little did I know that this offer would change my life. 

While working as the program director of HoH, we were approved for a grant by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (CBHF). That grant enabled us to create ABN – Artisan Business Network, a platform whose mission is to strengthen the artisan sector while linking the Haitian artisans to the global market. When the grant expired in 2013, the FOMIN (Multilateral Investment Fund of the IDB) and the Kellogg Foundation became our funding partners. Their contribution allows us to continue the work. We’ve been blessed with the support of many organizations such as the Hand Eye Fund, ByHand Consulting, Global Goods Partners, Road to Market to name a few and many friends who’ve landed a hand and given us great advice. I’m grateful to all of them.

What is the main focus of ABN and how does it help the artisan community?

ABN’s main focus is to strengthen our artisan groups and their small businesses through capacity building, training and marketing support to meet the demands of the global market.

How do companies like Tribe Alive support your mission?

Companies like Tribe Alive play a key part in ABN’s mission. Buyers like Carly Burson partner with us and collaborate with various artisans groups to create collections that reflect Haitian traditions with a modern twist. They give us a platform to share our culture with the world, create job opportunities that strengthen the economy and promote a positive image of the country.

We were lucky enough to witness your passion and dedication not only to the organization, but to the artisans you work with and to your home country. What have been some of your greatest successes in your role? The greatest disappointments? What have you learned from both?

Witnessing the growth of the artisans has been one of my greatest joys. I’ve gotten to know them on a personal level—I’ve seen how much more confident they’ve become through the years and the pride they have in their businesses. I’m excited about the opportunities we’ve had to share Haiti’s rich and vibrant culture and art with the rest of the world. Whenever a new buyer expresses their desire to work with us, to feature our products in their collection and to give our artisans the exposure they so deserve, I’m filled with joy. The other day an artisan came by the office and told us ABN was the first organization that gave him access to a computer. He is now learning how to use Word and Excel. How cool is that!

Another artisan has been very successful in growing his business and last year he was able to build a new home that he’s now renting. He’s become a respected entrepreneur in his community and a role model for many. We sometimes travel with artisans to international events and trade shows. Their enthusiasm to connect with the market is priceless. They go back to Haiti and share their experience with their peers with a renewed motivation. That warms my heart. 

I’ve also enjoyed witnessing the growth of my team. Their dedication to ABN and their willingness to push through the challenges is amazing. Living and working in Haiti can also be quite challenging. There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of infrastructure, technology, transparency and more. There is a huge problem with energy and the lack of electricity makes it difficult to work and maintain tight deadlines. Many of the artisans do not have the means to buy a generator so their productivity suffers. I’ve learned that patience is key when doing business in Haiti. One must always plan for the unexpected.

Flexibility is another must. It’s best to keep an open mind and learn to go with the flow instead of imposing our views on the locals. People have their own way of doing things and the sooner we adapt, the better. Haiti has humbled me. The resilience and creativity of the people is extraordinary. They face such huge challenges on a daily basis, yet they are so welcoming and hardworking! I am grateful for all of the lessons I have learned and am continuing to learn.

Every role in life has its sacrifices. One of the obstacles you face is working in Haiti while your family lives in New York City. How do you navigate the distance, and how has it impacted or changed your role as a mother?

Skype and Whatsapp are lifesavers. They allow me to keep in touch with my loved ones in the States. Being away from my family has been very difficult. I travel as much as I can, but I can go months without seeing them. I’ve missed out on many special events and the guilt of being away is tough to deal with. 

To maintain the connection, I share stories and pictures of my life here with them so they can be part of it even from afar. I also ask lots of questions and request lots of pictures of everything they do. I cheer the kids via the Internet and phone calls. They all play soccer and are pretty active in extra curricular activities. I love getting to hear about their successes and I encourage them to push through their challenges. I’ve also learned that it’s OK to ask for help and to not have control on their every move. I cherish the times we spend together and draw strength from those memories when we are apart.

How do we as women, mothers, daughters and mentors foster the next generation to invest in and support their communities and connect with a cause?

We must see the world as one community. We are all connected, so supporting each other is beneficial for us all. I’m a strong advocate of travel; it opens up our views on foreign cultures and teaches us about tolerance. We can and should encourage cultural exchanges. It promotes goodwill and gives us the opportunity to appreciate the various cultures around the world.

Conscious buying is a great way to connect with a cause. Trade, not aid, lets people maintain their dignity, and the buyers get a beautiful product. Everyone wins!

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? Tell us your personal motto!

My parents always encouraged me to reach for the stars. They are my biggest supporters. They’ve always told me it’s alright to fall but you must get back up. My personal motto is BE THE BEST YOU CAN BE. I apply it in my personal and professional life. I put out the energy I seek from the universe.

Photo of Atelier 83 of Haiti Furniture by Michael Newsted

Photo of Atelier 83 of Haiti Furniture by Michael Newsted

What is next for ABN and the companies you support?

ABN is well positioned to continue its mission defined by our tagline, Traditions + Design = Commerce. We plan on expanding our reach to various organizations, retailers, global designers, artists and philanthropists to provide artisans the support they need in business management, design input and market access. Our goal is to welcome an additional thousand artisans in our network, create more jobs and promote sustainable economic opportunities for the entire value chain of the artisan sector. 

p.s. Clementine founder, Erin Loechner, also joined us in Haiti and shared a beautiful essay on her experience. We strongly encourage you to check it out - it is well worth the read, friends.