Promoting UNIF’s Social Entrepreneur Model
When Myron (Buddy) Steves, Vice Chair of Myron Steves a Texas-based wholesale insurance brokerage firm, joined the University of Fondwa USA Board in 2013, he knew that raising funds for a university in Haiti was not going to be easy.
“There are a lot of Haiti skeptics out there and convincing them that the University of Fondwa (UNIF) is working will take time.” Buddy adds with a smile, “I knew no one else was going to do this. So, I decided the best way to raise funds was for me to join the board and convince others.” Buddy was elected UNIF-USA Board President in December 2013 just a few months after joining the board.
(Left to Right) Buddy and his wife of 27 years, Rowena Young, an attorney specializing in criminal law; Father Joseph, the Movie; and Myron F. Steves, Sr., Buddy’s Father.
But what compels him to give generously of his time, treasure and talent, and successfully encourage others to do so, is the University’s mission and its founder, Father Joseph Philippe, CSSp. The mission of UNIF and Father Joseph’s vision is to create jobs and wealth in rural Haiti. Haiti is one of the most economically depressed counties in the world with 59% of Haitians living under the national poverty line of US$ 2.42 per day. The statistics in rural Haiti are even more disconcerting.
Buddy first learned of the University of Fondwa and Father Joseph in 2012 when a filmmaker friend, Jeff Kaufman, approached him to help with production costs for a documentary film about Fondwa called “Father Joseph.” Buddy agreed to do so through his company SwingBud Films. SwingBud Films documents the lives of extraordinary dancers, athletes and world crusaders.
Buddy describes Father Joseph, a Spiritan priest who was born in Fondwa, as a “successful serial social entrepreneur.” By social entrepreneur, Buddy means individuals (and organizations) who promote sustainable development with a social conscience.
“Father Joseph is an incredible guy who does not just one thing, but many things well,” Buddy says when talking about UNIF to potential supporters.
After viewing the documentary and meeting Father Joseph, Buddy learned the impressive specifics of Father’s success stories. The Association of Peasants Fondwa (APF) was founded in rural Haiti in 1988 and has become a model of rural sustainable development. Inspired by Father Joseph, the peasant association has implemented infrastructure, health, and education programs, and oversees small business endeavors in Fondwa and the surrounding communities.
Fonkoze, established in 1994, is now Haiti’s largest microfinance institution and has earned international recognition for its innovative and highly successful approach to alleviating poverty and extreme poverty throughout Haiti.
The third pillar of sustainable development in Father Joseph’s vision is the University of Fondwa. UNIF was inaugurated in 2004 in celebration of Haiti’s 200-year anniversary of independence.
“A university education helps lives in many ways. But when it is coupled with social entrepreneur mindset, and encourages people to help themselves rather than waiting for outside assistance, the impact is extraordinary. This is a concept I can promote and sell to others,” Buddy speaks with conviction.
Although raising funds for the University of Fondwa continues to be a challenge, in his three-year tenure as the University of Fondwa USA’s Board President, Buddy has been successful in recruiting talented individuals to become involved with UNIF in focused and critical areas. One such example is the international delegation scheduled to visit UNIF in the upcoming months. Architects, and academic thought leaders from the U.S., who are personal friends of Buddy, as well as members of the global Spiritan community will visit UNIF and make recommendations for expanding the modest campus and for further collaboration.
Buddy is eager for the group to add their expertise to UNIF’s efforts to transform Haiti through higher education. But he also expects the delegation will return to the U.S. as ambassadors of UNIF’s mission. “People who come to Haiti will be surprised. What Father Joseph is doing and what the University of Fondwa has accomplished is actually working,” Buddy predicts.
For now, Buddy is encouraged that UNIF’s impact on its nearly 100 students and graduates is modest but significant. The young men and women who are the recipients of UNIF’s unique educational philosophy are living UNIF’s mission. They are working with peasant farmers and creating jobs in rural Haiti. They are sharing their knowledge by teaching at universities and organizing community seminars. Buddy has no doubt that the impact of UNIF’s graduates will continue to grow in the years ahead as they serve as mentors for other young men and women who come to UNIF for an education.
For most of his life, Buddy has been influenced by mentors who are hard-working, smart and ethical businessmen. Without a doubt, his most influential mentor was his father, Myron Steves, who was the owner and founder of Myron Steves. The company that Buddy and his father have built has a national reputation in the property and casualty insurance industry.
Buddy admits that he has followed in his father’s footsteps in many ways. Certainly the two men’s professional paths align. But Buddy also inherited his father’s knack for storytelling, his love of history, and a social entrepreneur life and business philosophy that resonates with that of Father Joseph.
One of Buddy’s favorite books is “Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for People Like Family,” by Bob Chapman.
“Father Joseph says by the nature of his work that everybody matters when it comes to receiving an education or access to healthcare and social programs—regardless of religion, occupation or economic class,” Buddy explains. “And when we do the right thing for the right reason, without expecting anything in return, the whole world becomes a better place.”
Buddy and his wife of 27 years, Rowena Young, an attorney specializing in criminal law, are generous in giving to a number of causes. Most notably is a Texas based non-profit called Children at Risk. The mission of Children at Risk is to improve the quality of life for children, through education, advocacy, strategic research and public policy analysis. Buddy has been on the board for seven years.
Buddy and Rowena live and work in Houston, Texas. Michael, their oldest son, graduated from Wesleyan University in 2013, and works as a filmmaker in LA. Joshua, their younger son graduated from the Naval Academy in 2015, and is finishing a master’s degree in Pure Math at Oxford before returning to the U.S. where he’s been assigned to the Nuclear Power School in Charleston, South Carolina.
When Buddy is not working or serving on the boards of UNIF-USA and Children at Risk, he enjoys spending time at their farm property in rural Virginia. Rowena and he also are avid swing dancers. In 1997, Rowena and Buddy founded the Houston Swing Dance Society, a non-profit organization and the largest social dance club in the country. Houston Swing Dance Society brings people of all ages and backgrounds together through dance and has a mission to get the whole world dancing.