The Fuego del Sol (FdS) developmental journey through the Dominican Republic and Haiti since 2005 has brought us into contact with hundreds of other developmental initiatives, all of which share our dream of working to assist under-resourced families escape the cycle of poverty. At least 95% of development efforts, that we have encountered, have ceased operations within the first two years. The most common reason for this limited success, in my opinion, is the desire to lead without the ability to listen.
In 2005, I was sure that what the Dominican Republic and Haiti needed most was access to clean drinking water. I researched many different filtering, chlorinating and UV systems and was ready to introduce several options to Dominican and Haitian communities. But before I made any investment in water technologies, I visited some the most impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic and asked people about the issues that most needed improvement in their lives. I was surprised that not one person mentioned drinking water among their primary concerns.
Now, this was before the island’s cholera epidemic, and I was in the eastern Dominican Republic, less than an hour away from top Caribbean resorts. I chose that area because our model involved bringing ecologically minded tourists to our project sites in order to share our work with the world.
Even so close to tourism-based wealth, it is shocking to see the level of poverty that persists in some Dominican and Haitian communities. Many families have somehow missed the benefits of tourism which too often does not reach those in need. I started out staying at the resorts, and I heard the warnings never to leave the resort property. Undeterred, I befriended some workers and rode with them on public transport into the town of Higuey.
Once there, I started asking people what they needed to make their lives easier. The answer that I received again and again concerned cooking fuel. Both propane and charcoal were too expensive and many families reported that they spent as much as 1/3 of their income on cooking fuel. Firewood was also a challenge since it took so much time to collect and often required trespassing on neighbors’ land. Kids would sometimes unable to attend school when they needed to gather firewood. With this information, our development plan changed.
Water solutions could wait. Now, the question was: what internationally available technologies could provide ecological cooking options to make delicious traditional Dominican and Haitian foods.
This process led to the development of the FdS Co-Creation model. I partnered with Dominican and Haitian innovators to introduce ecological cooking technologies on the island, while simultaneously hosting tourism volunteers. Our tourism clients want to connect with the people, cultures, cuisine and history of the two countries.
As we introduce people to each other, and new technologies to the island, we continue to listen to early adopters of our technologies in order: to learn which solutions provide the most ecological, practical and financial benefits. Which stoves are best for traditional local foods? Which have the easiest introduction and adoption process, and which ones do cooks like the best? This quest has led to the development of non-carbonized BioBriquettes (made from recycled paper, cardboard, sawdust and other agricultural waste), and ecological stoves that use the BioBriquettes as fuel.
We believe the Co-Creation Model is one of the main reasons that, ten years later, we are still here, still working, and still listening, when so many other operations have closed up shop. The concept can work for many sectors and developmental initiatives. It is scalable and replicable. The primary concept for developmental success is: listen, lead and then listen again.