George Sassine is the President of the ADIH, the Association Des Industries Haiti, which is an organisation that seeks to represent the interests of the businesses and workers in the manufacturing industry of Haiti. Set against a background of the long-term effects of the country’s coup d’état, the ADIH seeks to take the interests of its members and lobby the government for changes within the industry to boost trade and improve the local economy.

Mr Sassine is a warm and welcoming person, someone to whom people seem to gravitate. It is perhaps his natural charisma that has made him so successful in his current role as President of the ADIH – a position he has held twice before. Once a manufacturer of ladies’ underwear, he was often the target of violence, perhaps because of his political involvement, and consequently took the decision to rent out his business to another entrepreneur.

Mr Sassine had experienced, “Being shot at, bullets coming through my ceiling, bullets hitting my workers and losing money every day.” That harassment did not deter him or make him give up on his ideals. He accepted the Presidency of ADIH, yet again, in the hope of achieving real change.Sassine

Haiti's industry

Haiti’s industry

George Sassine intertwined with the role of the Association Des Industries Haiti

The ADIH has a long history of representing its members. It took a stand against the coup d’état. In 2014, and secured the expansion of the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act of 2006 (HOPE), which resulted in various economic benefits for their industry.

Under the leadership of Mr Sassine, the ADIH has recently ensured the creation of an office of government delegation, who will meet with senators and congressmen to lobby for greater support for Haiti’s manufacturing industry. It is a non-profit making organisation and fits with Mr Sassine’s personal philosophy, which is: “You can do well by doing good.”

Mr Sassine’s interest in the success of ADIH comes not only from his own industrial background but from his desire to see politics work for real people – not just for politicians. He quotes a British politician, “Like Winston Churchill said about war being too important to leave to the military, I believe that politics is too important to be left to the politicians!”

He explained that his greatest frustration lies in the fact that political instability over recent years, particularly since the 2004 coup d’état, has meant that investment in industry has been woefully inadequate. In turn, this has meant a disruption to the natural development of light industry, which in most other countries has been the basis for greater social and cultural development. A successful light industry, Mr Sassine told Kreol, “Should be a springboard for other forms of progress – in education, the environment and even the arts. They [the politicians] don’t seem to learn from past mistakes – because they live off politics, not off the economy.”

Haiti's shipping industry

Haiti’s shipping industry

Positive change, but slow

There are some major industrial changes on the cards for the next year – details of which are still confidential – but investment in local communities will give a much-needed boost to the local manufacturing economy. Mr Sassine is hopeful that more changes will follow, thanks to the lifting of the embargo that had been placed on Haiti following the coup d’état. He opines, “Mr Clinton, who was USA President at the time, recently apologised for the embargo, as he can now see the consequences. No matter where you place an embargo, it is always the people who suffer, not the leaders you are trying to hurt.”

Taking one step at a time, Mr Sassine aims to gain more members for the ADIH. Not only is there strength in numbers but also because there are countless manufacturing businesses that are not legally recognised and effectively invisible to the public sector.

So much of Haiti’s businesses are informal, with little paperwork or licenses. Many people choose to work as street traders in an attempt to scrape themselves out of the widespread poverty that blights Haiti. This informality is a real barrier to securing legitimate credit from the banks, which then impedes significant development. These are the barriers to development that Mr Sassine is attempting to overcome by working with local businesses and encouraging greater membership of the ADIH.

By becoming members of the ADIH, manufacturers have greater strength within the public sector and can share ideas with each other. Crucially, the ADIH can also help them through what Mr Sassine calls, “The arcane rules of government,” that can otherwise be off-putting to those seeking to make their business more formal.

Growing industry

Growing industry

Harking for stability and community

Above all, Sassine wants to see Haiti return to a time when it was settled and happy, with a real sense of community. He reminisces, “I was born in a very different country – there was less disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. We walked to school from my house and I knew everyone on the way – if I did anything my mother knew immediately! I had a happy childhood. Everything I wore and ate was made here. Haiti had a good medical school; foreigners came to study here. Haiti was one of the creators of UN… Now I have grandchildren, aged three and six, and they were born abroad. I want them to know about the Haiti that I grew up in. We are not a violent people. We want to be left alone and enjoy our rights, just as we have since 1803. I can see that there are lots of things that need to be resolved: poverty, education, health, the environment. I don’t know how or who will help me yet but I will bang on every door I have to.”

This passion is to his credit, yet, he describes it as a negative, “My worst feature is that I am passionate. This morning I gave a live interview and I got mad because I get frustrated when I hear politicians who call themselves leaders do things that infuriate me. My wife has suggested I take a deep breath before I respond to questions like that!”