As promised, we are bringing you an exciting look behind the scenes of Askanya Chocolates. Let’s pick up where we left off from my fun and loving childhood in Haiti.
Explore our Q&A to discover the reasons why we started our Haitian chocolate bar business to empower farmers and give back to my home country.
Founder | Askanya Chocolates
Q&A with Corinne, Founder of Askanya Chocolates
When did you move to the US for the first time?After finishing high school at age 16 in Haiti, my parents sent me to the US for college. Since I was quite young when I came over, my family was like “Nope, no campus for you. You have to live with family.”
My aunt lives in the US, so I lived with her during the two years I studied at the University of New Orleans. Later, when I turned 18, I was officially an adult and could decide to move out of home. I decided to attend a more prestigious school, I applied to the University of Michigan and was admitted with a scholarship. Go Blue!
That sounds super exciting. What was your college experience like?I made sure that I kept my grades up for my degree, and I was also an active member within the engineering societies on campus societies, the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers, for instance. I admit, I was a nerd, adapting to a new country and then to a very competitive engineering school. So, it was lots of studying and very limited partying.
How about joining the workforce after graduation?Although I had two industrial engineering internships during college, one at Northrop Grumman Space Technology and another one at L'Oréal USA, my first full-time job was in consulting. It was a great way to explore different industries. At the same time, I really wanted to do something more engineering-focused. I went on to pursue an industrial engineering role at Hormel Foods.
You graduated from college in 2006 and started your MBA in 2009. The Haiti earthquake hit the year after. How did this impact you?That’s right. I grew up in Port-au-Prince, so the 2010 earthquake was a major blow for me (and for many Haitians). Our family home collapsed in Port-au-Prince. My grandma sadly passed away.
In addition, my mom's cousin (I called him uncle), a cousin one year younger and our next door neighbor had their lives cut short. They were there for every of my childhood milestone – birthdays, first Holy Communion, graduation. I had just seen all four of them less than 12 days before during a New Year party. This was a really difficult time for me.
At the same time, it gave me a renewed purpose and conviction to make a difference in Haiti. I’d received so much from my home country growing up. And, I wanted to have a role in helping local people in Haiti.
Is that what fueled your motivation to start a business in Haiti?Although as a teenager I have been thinking of creating a social impact business (although back then, I didn't know there was such a term), the earthquake made that wish more pressing. By 2014, I'd spent almost a decade working in different industries, like consulting, technology and banking. It was time to leverage my skills for my own business.
Askanya Chocolates is based in Ouanaminthe, North-East Haiti. Why did you choose this location for your business?When the earthquake happened, Port-au-Prince, the capital, came to a standstill. A lot of people were displaced to surrounding cities. I wanted to create jobs outside of Port-au-Prince in the rural areas of Haiti.
We actually transformed my grandparent’s summer house into a colorful chocolate factory. It’s based in Ouanaminthe and was the perfect place to start.
What was your vision for your all-women chocolate artisan team?I wanted to create jobs in Haiti, specifically for women. I’m sort of a feminist and wanted to provide opportunities for women to achieve financial independence, whether they had formal education or not.
You must have had a lot of business ideas. What made you choose a Haitian chocolate bar company?Full disclaimer - the idea didn't sprout of the fact I l am a chocoholic - not at all. I wanted to create a business where farmers can make money. Agriculture is a large part of the Haitian economy. Farmers grow seasonal crops in small plots for their own family. Everything from avocados to plantains. Anything that’s left over can be sold at local markets.
But, they often don’t find reliable buyers for the extra. I wanted to find a market for their products so they can get a fair price for their crops and make extra income.
Haitian cacao was our crop of choice because it’s highly regarded in the international market. There are cacao farms in Haiti where we buy the cacao beans directly. In return, we pay farmers around 2 to 3 times the fair trade price, so they can earn a real living wage to support their families.