Jenn Douma developed a business plan that few entrepreneurs would consider.
After months of working out the details, the longtime devotee to charitable causes established Outpour Fairtrade Boutique to give money away to the unfortunate.
Her mission is to help the artisans and crafters in Haiti, India and African countries market their handiwork that she sells in her boutique. A portion of the proceeds are then sent to Mirebalais, Haiti, to build its only school.
Douma had been making annual trips to Haiti over the past seven years fundraising and collecting items to sell at parties, much as a Tupperware or Mary Kay retailers would do. She used the proceeds along with money from other fund-raising events to finance the school building project.
Between trips, she also supported other charitable causes. During the pandemic shutdown, she collected clothing and cash donations to support foster children.
Last September, Douma and co-owner Becky Duensing went to Haiti to assist with the school’s grand opening. It was Duensing’s first trip to that country. Construction on the two-story Sorbonne Christian Academy with four classrooms had started a year earlier.
The school now has six classrooms thanks to the additional money raised.
Why not start a store
Several weeks after returning from Haiti, Duensing said that Douma asked her, “What do you think about opening a store?”
“It sounded like a good idea. I had been looking for a way to invest in a business,” Duensing said.
Retail coaching consultant Vicki Seebeck associated with the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., and owner of Side by Side, a consulting firm, helped them enhance their plan for Outpour Fairtrade Boutique.
“I had never seen a business with such a heart,” she said. “It was something with a very unique concept, a business that wanted to give to help others.”
Their mission statement clearly aligns their boutique with the global Operation Outpour program and their work in Haiti.
They reasoned that choosing fair trade items benefits artisans as well as their partners — the distributors and their chosen Haitian community.
Opened last fall
They opened Outpour Fairtrade, 7619 Sheridan Road, late last November with hopes of making more progress on the school that has gradually grown.
The boutique purchases wholesale items from certified fair-trade distributors. Those items are made by people who would not normally have an opportunity to sell their creations or products they grow on a larger scale. They include coffee, tea, chocolate, artwork, pottery, jewelry, and many other crafted goods.
The gift shop opened on Black Friday, a day when holiday shoppers were looking for unique gift items.
“The boutique is a for-profit shop to support the non-profit,” Douma said.
Buying land to expand school
The initial goal is to accommodate students in grades K-5. The future calls for further expansion as merchandise is sold in the Kenosha-based store.
Douma and her colleagues formed a board that bought land for the school. The hope to buy more land and continue expanding the school.
In one of the world’s poorest countries, the business arrangement helps educate and feed kids. “We have been paying outright for kids to eat,” she said.
It also provides funds that cover the student’s $60 annual tuition and provides jobs for some of their parents and other community members.
“People who could not afford an education for their kids now can send them to school,” Douma said.
The project also provides jobs for people from the community too.
Douma said, “The janitor is a woman who has no formal education, and now is earning $200 a month.”
Sorbonne Academy currently has 43 students, along with a principal, teachers, two teacher helpers, a cook, and a nurse. The monthly budget is around $2,000, said Douma.
“It has running water, flushing toilets and Wi-Fi.”
The tract of land currently has four vacant acres that will eventually accommodate more classrooms. Meanwhile, “On the land we’re not using right now, we are letting people farm on it,” Douma said.
“This is a mission of the heart,” she said.
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