A Very Sweet Success

A Very Sweet Success

Thursday, September 15, 2016 - 11:25am


Ice cream is probably the world’s most ubiquitous treat. In Port Au Prince, Haiti, ice cream will become more than a sticky, melty, sweet – starting today, ice cream will change Haitian lives. Crazy, right?

I tend to be a dreamer, thinking in terms of the “what if” not just the “what’s possible.” When I met Alexis Gallivan of Blue Marble Dreams and Lionel Bernard of Haiti 155, I immediately noticed that they had the same qualities – which is why when they said they wanted to spark social enterprise by bringing affordable, high-quality, organic ice cream to Haiti, I said “let’s do this.” Did I mention that I don’t eat dairy?

You see, the Bél Rév project isn’t really about ice cream. Alexis, Lionel and I are members of a community that believes Haiti deserves better; they deserve better than intermittent, dirty power, more access to fresh and wholesome food and deserve a whole lot more opportunity and joy. For the average Port Au Prince resident, there’s a lot of reason to worry, with extreme poverty and a turbulent political climate at the center of most Haitian’s lives, Haiti has a lot to overcome, but we’re working toward solutions and Bél Rév,an ice cream shop, is simply one convener for positive change.

Consider the ice cream itself, is a pretty joyful food. It is a shareable, social treat; something that you gather with your friends and family to enjoy. Because of its frozen-solid to liquid nature, you have to give it your full attention the moment it hits your hand and for that brief flash in time, you’re forced to think about nothing other than the cold goodness you’re enjoying. As Alexis puts it, “no one is ever angry eating ice cream.”

There are many layers to Bél Rév’s impact. From the up-cycled structure itself, to the solar shade structure and reliable, efficient microgrid – everything about Bél Rév is rooted in quality. Then there’s the staff, women who are members of KOFAVIV, a non-profit that supports survivors of sexual violence. In addition to teaching these brave and recovering women how to expertly run an ice cream shop, they’ve been given personal and professional development training such as how to manage a household budget and starting a savings account, big steps forward toward self-reliance. Bél Rév also provides free internet access to anyone with a receipt – a way to connect Haitians with the rest of the world.

During my time overseeing NRG’s positiveNRG program, we’ve done a lot of meaningful work in Haiti, but nothing quite like this. This project is personal for me. Three years ago, when I brought this opportunity to NRG’s stakeholders, I am pretty sure they thought I was crazy. I was asked “why ice cream – how will that help Haiti?” but the question “why” was simple – bring joy, give Haitians a treat that’s the same quality as I would give my family at home.

The harder question was “how do you think you’re going to pull this off?” – and truth be told, there were moments in time over the last few years where I wondered that myself. It was hard to get the NRG-designed and installed microgrid and shipping containers to their site in Port Au Prince, mainly driven by the nuances of working internationally. However, we gave this our heart and soul – each time someone on the team found themselves frustrated or losing hope, we found ways to lift each other up and push forward. We did it.

The climate in the world is changing – figuratively and literally. Stopping to “eat the ice cream” and appreciate and share life’s precious moments enable us to miss some of the chaos. Today, we celebrate the opening of Bél Rév, the most challenging but rewarding team-effort I am honored to be a part of. Today, Haitians will serve Haitians the quality they deserve at a price they can afford, and lives will change. Today, I celebrate and share this moment with my friends Alexis and Lionel, and everyone who made this project happen because WE BELIEVED. Today, I get to pause and eat my ice cream (more likely, mango sorbet… I still don’t love dairy).

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Jennifer leads the charitable giving program of Princeton, NJ-based NRG Energy, the nation’s largest competitive electricity generation company and a leading provider of retail electric services and r...

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