Nora Jeanne Joseph

Founder and CEO, RADIKAL

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Nora Jeanne Joseph is addressing food security in Haiti through women street vendors, to improve access to healthy, sustainable food. She is helping turn informal food stalls into thriving micro-businesses linked to local farmers, bringing safer and more nutritious food to thousands of people every day while lifting communities out of poverty.



Nora tackles food security in Haiti by expanding access to healthy, safe, and sustainable food and creating better economic opportunities along the food value chain. The backbone of her strategy is a network of Madan Sara, women who informally sell food and other essentials on the streets. They are at the heart of Haiti’s economy – USAID estimates that they are responsible for up to 90 percent of local trade. About half of the population relies on them for food every day, and their stalls are community gathering spaces. Nora’s own grandmother was a Madan Sara. Yet their critical role is invisible, and lack of adequate training and support leaves them stuck in poverty.

To change this, Nora and her organization RADIKAL engage Madan Sara as franchisees to simultaneously improve their livelihoods and help bring food security to the most hard-to-reach communities. Women can access equipment, training, and ongoing advising through RADIKAL. The organization also links them with public services like healthcare and insurance that were previously out of reach to informal workers. This network of women also functions as a community safety net. For example, after the 2021 earthquake, they mobilized swiftly to get emergency relief into the hands of affected families.

Alongside strengthening women’s business skills and capacity, RADIKAL focuses on integrating food safety, hygiene, and sustainable practices into their work. Each Madan Sara feeds hundreds of people daily, so improving food handling conditions can have a rippling impact on public health. RADIKAL also supports Madan Sara to source healthy, sustainable ingredients by integrating local food value chains. RADIKAL buys organic produce from small farmers and then engages women-led cooperatives to process and package products like oils and spices, and to pre-cook meals. These products are later distributed to the network of Madan Sara. Instead of having to go to the market every day and buy low-quality imported goods at retail prices, RADIKAL members have an affordable supply that is more nutritious, sustainable, and safe for their customers.

Nora’s work provides a blueprint for a farm-to-fork ecosystem that could reduce Haiti’s dependence on food imports and increase resilience, while recognizing women’s essential contributions. It is also scalable outside the islands, as informal and micro food vendors are an integral part of food systems worldwide.


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, three billion people around the world cannot afford healthy food and nearly a million are living in famine conditions. Nora’s country, Haiti, is among the worst affected: Nearly half of the population (over 4 million people) faces food insecurity. 1.8 million are in emergency conditions.

"Radikal tackles gender equality by recruiting and training women to become better business owners, ‘helping them improve their quality of life, and enabling them to step into their power and command respect in their households and communities.’”

- Sustainable Earth

As in much of the Caribbean, a key issue is the country’s dependence on imports, that leaves it vulnerable to disruptions in global food chains. In fact, Haiti imports 51% of the food it consumes – compared to only 18% in 1981, leading to an import bill that rises above 1 billion USD annually. Once a leading rice producer, Haiti now imports over 80% of the rice now consumed by its population. The promotion of imports through dramatic tariff cuts since the mid-1990s has meant that farmers in Haiti are unable to compete with cheap, subsidized, imported food. Meanwhile, insufficient access to financing, technologies and training, and limited infrastructure, makes it difficult for the local agricultural sector to become more resilient. The political crisis, rising gang violence, and natural disasters have exacerbated these issues.

Haitians have come to rely on Madan Sara to access food, especially in low-income communities. Street food allows people to save on the cost of fuel and water and is a safer alternative, as storing food is made impossible by frequent power cuts.

Haitians have come to rely on Madan Sara to access food, especially in low-income communities. Street food allows people to save on the cost of fuel and water and is a safer alternative, as storing food is made impossible by frequent power cuts. Street vendors also fill the gap when formal food distribution networks are interrupted by deficient transport infrastructure, fuel shortages and road blockades by protestors and gang-issues that have become the new normal in Haiti – and can provide food on credit when money is scarce.

"RADIKAL [is growing] a network of women-operated food franchisees, known as the Saradi, who offer affordable, healthy meals to the most vulnerable in Haiti. Equipped with food carts, local ingredients and water filters, these women are tackling food insecurity head-on."

- Cision PR Newswire

Despite their essential role, these women entrepreneurs remain trapped in poverty. Limited access to training and schooling mean that few know how to manage their finances and often depend on male relatives, who use this leverage to control their money. They have no access to structural or financial support. Without financing to buy wholesale, Madan Sara buy their inputs at retail prices and sell at a loss because their clients cannot afford to pay more, driving sellers into debt. On top of these barriers, Madan Sara routinely experiences gender-based violence and discrimination. They are spat upon and insulted by clients and passers-by; are slapped, punched, and mocked in public spaces; and regularly experience sexual abuse. 

The challenges facing Madan Sara have a knock-on effect on public health. A key issue is the unsanitary conditions under which they operate. Researchers from Ghent University found that in 60% of the cases, flies and animals were evident around stalls, and 65% of the sellers did not have access to potable water. The majority served food with bare hands and did not wash their hands after handling money. This lack of adherence to basic hygiene standards and low awareness of food-borne diseases, combined with the prevalence of charcoal stoves, can lead to serious health risks. Additionally, the imported retail products that street vendors depend on are often hazardous due to poor regulation, as Haiti does not currently have food safety laws.


RADIKAL’s process starts with local farmers. Historically, Madan Sara mostly sold produce from their own or their community’s farms. But this relationship has been weakened by competition from cheaper imports. RADIKAL sources produce from smallholder farmers through partner organizations, creating a win-win situation in which farmers can find a stable market for their produce while women vendors gain access to healthier food at wholesale prices.

Crops are then brought to processing facilities run by co-operatives in which at least 90% of members are women. To reduce environmental impact, RADIKAL introduces renewable energy in these spaces and installs bio-digester systems, circulating waste back as fertilizer for farmers. The products are then brought to a central kitchen to prepare and package food using biodegradable packaging made from agricultural waste.

Her intersectional, long-term movement for food security and economic empowerment includes more than 2,500 women vendors in 45 towns.

In the last stage, Nora has assembled a distribution network of women street vendors called Saradi (a portmanteau of “RADIKAL” and “Madan Sara”). These women participate in an 18-month training program that includes food sanitation and hygiene, business management and other skills. Nora has partnered with international NGOs for these workshops, such as World Central Kitchen and the Clean Cooking Alliance. After the first two months of the program, Saradi can invest in a RADIKAL food cart and start selling, with the option of participating in a mutual savings program to help finance the cost. Carts are equipped with clean cooking stoves and other upgrades that would be difficult to finance otherwise. After they graduate, Saradi continues to access financing, business and marketing support, and further training opportunities. RADIKAL also works with municipal governments to ensure that network members have access to state insurance programs, financing tools, and secure work areas, although this support has been destabilized by political turmoil.

As an example of what the full process looks like, to produce peanut oil RADIKAL sources organic peanuts from farmers, and then a women’s cooperative processes them into oil. The oil is packaged and stored by RADIKAL and ordered on an as-needed basis by Saradi to use for cooking or to sell directly. (Conversely, some imported cooking oils sold by Madan Sara have been reported to be toxic recycled oils from international fast-food restaurants.)

RADIKAL’s network currently includes more than 2,500 women vendors in 45 towns, mainly in the south of the country. They each pay a monthly franchise fee that is reinvested into the program. Even with this added cost and the initial investment in their food cart, women vendor’s revenue increases by 50% on average, and their mi- cro-franchise has a 75% success rate compared to less than 20% as an informal business. Thanks to this higher income and their enhanced financial savvy, women build greater economic independence and resilience. They can save or invest in things like health and education for themselves and their families. Many women visit an OB-GYN for the first time through RADIKAL-supported local health clinics, and others have begun sending their children to school. Given that over 40% of households in Haiti are headed by women, improving their livelihoods can uplift entire communities.

The impact on the Saradis’ individual capacity and financial well-being reaches far beyond their own households. By investing in them, RADIKAL seeks to strengthen their role in building food security. Saradi typically serve several hundred meals every day, collectively impacting over hundreds of thousands people daily who rely on them entirely for nourishment. Through RADIKAL, they are helping more people access healthy meals affordably. Their food is also safer to eat, thanks to training in food safety and hygiene, and the replacement of coal with clean cooking stoves. Additionally, the network of Madan Sara allows RADIKAL to channel resources to communities that humanitarian organizations find difficult to access. Their importance continues to grow as political, social, and economic crises in Haiti deepen.

Nora has had to remain agile to consolidate and grow RADIKAL in a deeply uncertain context, navigating situations such as gang control on Haiti’s main roads that cuts off supplies, and country-wide shutdowns that force vendors to stay home. This is precisely why RADIKAL is so vital: Organizing as a network makes it possible to redirect resources efficiently and to obtain economies of scale to implement adaptive solutions. For example, after being without propane (LPG) gas for three months in late-2022, RADIKAL is leveraging its partnership with Clean Cooking Alliance to switch vendors from propane gas to renewable fuels such as ethanol and biomethane, enabling members to maintain their livelihoods.

In the long term, the food value chains that Nora has built through RADIKAL can become self-sustaining, as farmers, cooperatives and street vendors become better connected and build wealth. The goal is to cut dependence on international aid and predatory imports. Once the political situation is stabilized, Nora plans to mobilize this network of women to advocate for their basic human rights as well as their safety and protection as micro-entrepreneurs. She hopes that, over time, the network will create collective power to influence policy.

The pervasiveness of street food worldwide means that the model can be readily adapted and replicated. Globally, an estimated 2.5 billion people consume street food each day; in Latin America, street food accounts for up to 30% of urban household purchases. Aware of this potential, Nora has identified the Haitian diaspora as a potential lever to scale internationally in the next three years. She plans to engage Haitians spread throughout the Caribbean and Latin America to establish franchise networks that offer migrants employment opportunities.

Nora’s distribution network of women street vendors called Saradi (a portmanteau of “RADIKAL” and “Madan Sara”) participate in an 18-month training program that includes food sanitation and hygiene, business management and other skills. After they graduate, Saradi continues to access financing, business and marketing support and further training opportunities.


Nora grew up between Haiti and the United States. Her grandfathers were farmers, and her grandmothers were Madan Sara, and her parents were both able to study and become well-respected professionals. Nora became determined to make a positive impact after observing the opportunities that were open to her, while her community and the country she called home struggled with poverty. When she migrated to the U.S. with her family at 13 years old, she vowed to return to make a difference.

At 20 years old she volunteered at the National Coalition for Haitian Rights in New York to gain a deeper understanding of the Haitian context and learn where she could have the biggest impact. This role eventually led to her traveling back to Haiti as a Research Assistant several years later, in late 2010. Prior to that, in 2008, she visited her paternal grandmother in her family’s hometown of La Vallée de Jacmel for the first time since she had left Haiti 11 years earlier. During both trips, she was surprised by how hard it was to find quality household items at accessible prices and was frustrated to see the dependence on cheap, potentially dangerous imports. At the same time, she noted people’s struggle to find formal employment, especially challenging for women. This sparked an idea for a business of locally made products that could create sustainable livelihoods for women.

The idea took force after an earthquake devastated the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in 2010. Relatives started reaching out to her for urgent help, and an already bleak situation became increasingly desperate. After developing a model while raising her two toddlers in New York, in 2015 Nora took the jump and moved back to Haiti to launch her project. This decision cost her the support of her immediate family and her children’s father. She suddenly found herself a single mother with no safety net to fall back on in a country riddled with challenges. Undeterred, Nora worked odd jobs while building RADIKAL, a micro-retailing brand of cosmetics made with local organic ingredients and distributed through Madan Sara.

Yet another crisis forced Nora to pivot. When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, Nora realized that lockdowns would severely impact thousands of people who rely on street vendors for food. She quickly repurposed the network of small farmers and women she had assembled through RADIKAL to deliver food aid. The dramatic impact achieved in this period motivated her to turn this emergency response into a long-term strategy for food security and economic empowerment. 

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