Op-Ed: Haiti’s Development Paradigm


Above: Haiti’s Citadelle Laferrière (UN Photo/Victoria Hazou)

By Eric Martin
Op-Ed Contributor

I read with interest several recent articles in the Caribbean Journal that provide a mix of commentaries on development in Haiti. I apologize in advance should I misrepresent any of this work – this is not my intention. I value the opinions of all three and their perspectives. I seek to combine them.

Professor Sylvan Jolibois effectively argued in favor of governmental spending on physical infrastructure. He correctly assessed the need as well as the general logic of this approach; the many positive spillovers and externalities such spending will create. Of course governmental capacity remains a question in terms of implementation of such a grand plan. But as he suggested, this opportunity will be wasted if internal players cannot make wise use of external donor funding. And wise use, to me, implies the effective use of international aid to rebuild infrastructure while simultaneously increasing institutional capacity in administering such funds through the public sector. A classic win-win.

Ilio Durandis suggests a more homegrown approach to development. His focus is on Haitian entrepreneurs. He fears that current vulnerability and exposure make Haiti ripe for external exploitation. His cautions should be heeded. There is great temptation in this time of need to offer terms and incentives to international investors that ultimately undermine local development. This perspective is tempered perhaps in the Caribbean Journal’s recent interview with Gary Edson of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. While perhaps externally directed, this fund has focused on private sector growth. Edson sees great benefits in foreign investment where Durandis appears skeptical. Regardless, the private sector remains for both the primary catalyst for change.

Finally, of course, we must address the myriad NGOs operating in Haiti that provide much assistance, inflows of dollars and expertise, critical advocacy and valuable attention. While it is difficult to blame these groups that work so hard on behalf of the Haitian people, we do know that, as a sector, they can be uncoordinated, unaccountable locally, and driven by multiple stakeholders, not the least of which, their donors, whose aims may or may not align with the real needs of the local communities they assist. As a major player in Haiti’s reconstruction, this sector can be more transparent, efficient, effective and yes, local. But one must not underestimate the benefits that can result from the vibrant civil society NGOs encourage. If anything, the NGO sector is underutilized as a change agent moving forward, having been so preoccupied with emergency operations.

Cross-sectoral development

As such, Haiti’s future lies in a combination of all three sectors working in concert. Government, business and NGOs must communicate effectively, cooperate where useful, coordinate where efficient and collaborate where possible. These words are not synonyms. In this large-scale complex system they each take on very specific meanings. Failures in each have serious implications.

  • To communicate is to clearly and effectively articulate one’s mission, goals, objectives and actions to all viable stakeholders in a useful fashion.
  • To cooperate is to recognize the need to work alongside some stakeholders, to share best practices and disseminate information that might assist others in their missions.
  • To coordinate is to effectively divide labor into logical, regional, sectoral, sequential or temporal steps or phases and identify the best players at the best time to implement.
  • To collaborate is to break down and through organizational barriers to create organizational change that facilitates development.

Coupled with the nature of inter-organizational activities (communication, cooperation, coordination and collaboration) and the cross-sectoral strengths and weaknesses of stakeholders (public, private and nonprofit), it is a more fundamental framing of the development process.

International development assistance consists of three major components; 1) the international community; 2) the local host country, Haiti; and 3) the transfer of aid and needs between the two. This is a critical distinction in light of the conversations above regarding cooperative activities within the large scale system of aid.

Match needs and be flexible.

The international community must speak with one voice and collaborate across sectors so that governmental agencies like USAID, multilaterals like the United Nations and Inter-American Development Bank, NGOs and private firms each do what they do best. This requires a deep understanding of each others’ work, talent, and strategic goals.  It also requires willingness to change when one identifies goal misalignment. Most research suggests this type of cross-sectoral inter-organizational exchange improves with time. It also improves when aid is delivered under very flexible contracts where host country and field personnel can redirect as necessary. It improves as funding diminishes. And finally, it often requires an education process for donors who may see money being spent seemingly off-mission.

Increase local ownership, capacity and accountability while delivering tangible outputs.

Local government must work with the international community to carve out institutional strengthening and organizational learning components in nearly every project. Too often, assistance agencies offer solutions in search of problems, overlooking or ignoring local needs. Pushback encouraging only output should be fiercely fought.  Local host country governmental capacity should not be seen as an externality to programmatic action. It should be the primary focus of all programmatic action with hands-on field based approaches that build administrative capacity while serving needs. We have moved post-post-disaster. Nearly two years after the earthquake, every project should leave in place trained and financed administrators to insure sustainability. Capacity has been diminished by brain drain, loss of life, and emigration.  The international community swept up the remaining talented locals. It is time to return them to public service, but with the pay, prestige and power entrusted to them in their international positions. Mechanisms include short-term secondees or embedded Haitian expats working with local apprentices. A public administration training focus and action learning projects can increase capacity while delivering assistance.

Design for sustainability.

Finally, there is the transfer of assistance. Far too little attention is paid to this component of development. Yes, the international community must work well together and the host Haitian stakeholders must be prepared to receive assistance. But the two must work together to determine how best to transfer aid and make this a truly reciprocal relationship. Haiti has had a long history of receiving development assistance. Improving this process requires attention paid to the strategic role of all three sectors, both locally and internationally, with an eye towards moving away from one-way communications stating needs and offers, to a two-way collaborative process where development assistance co-evolves with actual development in Haiti. I understand that Haitian players have difficulty taking control of the international community, and feel overwhelmed by their own political situation. However, the process of aid can be controlled. Being effective aid recipients is as important as being effective aid providers. It is here that thoughtful Haitian leadership from below might have a greater impact in the near future.

Addressing the acute and the chronic

Paul Farmer’s phrase ‘acute on chronic’ provides an apt metaphor for aid delivery. Every aid project should explain how it addresses the acute need and the chronic underlying causes or obstacles. I cannot think of a problem in Haiti that does not require attention to both. To start, ask every project manager, grant writer, executive director, field worker, official, minister, staffer, implementer and contractor how every action sponsored addresses both the acute and the chronic. The acute we all know far too well (safety, health, housing, employment, cholera, etc.); the chronic is outlined above and will only be addressed by cross-sectoral and deeply embedded collaboration between host Haitians and the international community. If the latter is not visible, the project is not right for Haiti.

Eric Martin is an Assistant Professor of Management at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal op-eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.


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