Haitian Social Entrepreneur Overcomes Challenges by 'Connecting the Dots'
Marc Alain Boucicault Shares Insights and Stories About His Superpower
Devin: Marc, what's your superpower?
Marc: I don't think I have any. I really think anyone can do what I'm doing. If you are passionate, if you are disciplined, if you know how to connect dots, I think you can do anything that I'm doing right now.
Building this company, honestly, was a bit unique, and I did not think I was capable of doing it until I actually started putting the dots together. The guy [Roy Glasberg] at Google that I met amazed me when he said the following, "I don't have any superpower. I just know how to connect the dots." And that resonated with me. And when I came back to Haiti, I tried to reach out to sponsors, people who were sponsoring my social venture, to find that interest in a person that really would like to be able to help you. Not asking too much, but just a little bit. And you, your job is to connect those little bits all together because there's no big money in Haiti that you can just tap your hand into and build the company and build the 800 square meter space just like the one we have today. It takes time, patience and being able to connect the dots. If I would say I have a power, maybe that's what it is.
You can watch the full interview with Marc here: marc.s4g.biz.
Marc Alain Boucicault is a Fulbright Scholar who worked for the International Development Bank and the World Bank as an economist at the outset of his career. As much influence and power as that gave him, he felt he could make a bigger difference as a social entrepreneur, helping build the tech industry from the ground up in his home country, Haiti.
From scratch, he built Banj, a co-working facility and business accelerator with high-speed internet access for tech entrepreneurs in Port-Au-Prince. He held a variety of events and brought entrepreneurs into the space to begin building tech companies.
Then, without warning in one evening, a riot in this capitol city focused on removing the president included a rampage of destruction that destroyed every physical manifestation of the community he’d built over the previous two years. His business was gone.
At that point, he thought there would be no way to recover. Building it once had represented a herculean task. He couldn’t see a way to recreate it all.
For once, I suspect, he was happy to be wrong. The community he had built, including an international network of support, including sponsors and investors, rallied around and helped rebuild the facility.
Today, he boasts that more than 7,000 people have attended events there. Hundreds of entrepreneurs have received support, coaching or a place to work. Among these are 40 tech companies getting mentored and cultivated to build a tech economy in a country without one.
When I first spoke to Marc before the riot, he described his superpower as connecting the dots and explained the process by which he’d connected with people and obtained from each some token of value. In that conversation, however, he didn’t fully appreciate how important that network of connected dots was.
When the riot left Banj in ruins, the network returned. One by one, the sponsors and donors, the entrepreneurs and everyone else in the community returned. They helped organize a crowdfunding campaign to restore the building, and before long, it happened.
“That's when I realized this is stronger than me,” Marc says. Once assembled as parts of the organization, the connected dots represented something more than he had appreciated, certainly something more significant than and somewhat independent of himself.
How to Develop Connecting the Dots as a Superpower
Marc and I reconnected so I could learn how you can learn to connect the dots the way he does. You can see the powerful interview here: marc2.s4g.biz.
Marc provided four specific steps for growing your ability to connect the dots.
1. Be genuine. “Be yourself.” His advice may seem almost counterintuitive. Many people counsel doing what seems almost the opposite, to fake it in some way. Marc says that being genuine is a way to connect with people that moves them quickly to trust you, making possible the little investments and commitments that may make all the difference. Just “living your dream” inspires people in ways that they may not fully understand. They just believe that they are dealing with the real you, not a fake or a phony.
2. See potential. Marc likes to see everyone as having the potential to help. Sometimes, that potential is immediate, sometimes further into the future. He recommends thinking about your needs on a granular scale. Rather than feel you need $1 million to move forward, think about all the individual things you will do with that money: office space, computers, desks, paint, carpet, accounting help, legal help, mentoring, etc. With every person you meet, think about how their lives, interests and abilities align with your needs. Identify the potential intersection.
3. Give back. As you develop relationships with people, look for ways to reciprocate kindness. You want to build a connection that doesn’t feel like a one-off transaction but instead creates a role for them in your story. Create a role for yourself in their story. By finding ways to show appreciation, you write a shared plot that intertwines your parts. Marc’s participation in this book exemplifies his effort to build on the relationship we established when I wrote about him for the first time more than three years ago for Forbes.
4. Use social media. Having followed him for years, I think Marc truly is adept at this. Using platforms like Linkedin and Facebook, you can connect with people you might never have a chance to meet in any other way. He belongs to several groups, each of which has a presence on social media. He uses these groups to network, meeting people who take an interest in him and find small ways to be helpful. Don’t underestimate the power of social media.
As you think about these steps, you’ll see how you can apply these in your work. Finding the help you need in smaller chunks, sometimes in kind rather than in cash, may be a vital adjustment for reaching your goals. Whether or not you can achieve Marc’s proficiency at connecting the dots to make it a superpower, even incremental improvement could make a difference.