Twenty four Haitian business people have been chosen to take part in the national finals of the 2010 Digicel Entrepreneur of the Year awards – which aim to help Haiti build new economic foundations.

Despite the scale of the destruction last January, the awards received more than 220 nominations in six separate categories, testament to the dynamism of the enterprise culture which still flourishes there, said Digicel Haiti’s CEO, Maarten Boute.

It’s a real privilege for Digicel to be the drivers behind this awards program with these extraordinarily innovative people. They have shown indomitable spirit and determination to overcome adversity – which is exactly what Haiti needs.”

Although many companies have seen their infrastructures and their markets badly hit, there was an enthusiastic response across all six categories – food and agriculture, environment, tourism and culture, industry, services, and emerging businesses.

The nominees were evaluated according to strict enterprise criteria, including the company’s strategic direction, financial performance, record of innovation, and – crucially, given the perilous state of the country – its impact on the wider community.

Following the initial judging and a series of interviews, four finalists were selected in each of the six categories, a process replicated across four regions, promoting 96 businesses into the regional finals of the awards – whose theme is Ignite the Spirit of Enterprise.

Digicel also runs a host of community-based initiatives across its markets and has set up Digicel Foundations in Jamaica, Haiti and Papua New Guinea which focus on educational, cultural and social development programmes.

Those 96 finalists – ten percent of whom were women – between them employ a total of 20,773 people, all dependent for their long-term survival and success on the ability of these business leaders to rebuild a thriving pro-business environment.

Four regional finals took place across Haiti reducing that 96 to just 24, six finalists per region – the culmination of a remarkable journey for the entire business community towards the national final at the Marché de Fer in Port-au-Prince on December 15.

Now in the national environment category alone, for instance, there is a company offering fuel-efficient stoves which reduce charcoal consumption by an average of 50 percent. There’s even one entrepreneur bent on developing a brand new National Botanical Gardens for Haiti – spread over a fabulous 200-hectare greenfield site.

The Marché – the iconic old Iron Market – was chosen as the backdrop to the final because it was built in 1889 as a symbol of Haiti’s traditional trading prowess, and destroyed by fire in the aftermath of the earthquake. Its reconstruction has been regarded as highly symbolic for the entire country.

Boute comments; “We have been hugely impressed by all the entrepreneurs who participated in the regional finals- without a single exception. Selecting 24 national finalists was not an easy task for our esteemed judging panel.

One of the benefits of being in business most regularly referred to by the entrepreneurs was that it allowed them to build homes for their families and educate their children. This is a country where education is as precious as water – the key to a better life for the next generation.”

In the run-up to the National Final, the 24 finalists will participate next month in a three-day CEO Retreat at Florida International University. This three-day CEO Retreat will deliver training in leadership, innovation and strategy in an effort to help them better grow their enterprise into a large, international organisation, which will ultimately elevate Haiti.

The Digicel Entrepreneur of the Year is sponsored by Sogebank, AIC and Coles Group and is supported by the Clinton Global Initiative, CLED, Haiti Chamber of Commerce, the Soros Foundation and The Green Family Foundation.

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