By Joshua Paul, MD
In the wake of Haiti’s devastating earthquake of January 2010, scores of NGOs, charities and disaster experts flocked to the country in a valiant effort to conquer the chaos. Former United States President Bill Clinton was one of the first famous names to join the surge. Also on the scene have been Wyclef Jean, Sean Penn, Oprah Winfrey and many others.
By some accounts, there are more than 3,000 NGOs operating in Haiti today. This can be seen throughout the countryside as small foci of non-profit developments, orphanages, water wells and primary schools. The tragedy is that there is minimal collaboration among these organizations. This lack of cooperation leads to redundancy, reinvention of the wheel and, in some cases, total waste.
To combat this inefficiency, we should propose instituting a yearly conference to bring together NGOs, Government officials, the Haitian elite and business owners, Haitian workers and the Haitian diaspora.
The meetings and workshops should charge a nominal charge but remain open to the public. The conference should be held in Haiti. This venture would not only allow for exchange of ideas but, due to its international appeal, it would increase visitor traffic, which, in turn, would create substantial cash flow for local businesses each year.
In order for Haiti to benefit from this avalanche of humanitarian support, there must be a change of paradigm at the level of each of the five sectors that are so crucial to the Haitian economy. These five sectors are the Haitian government, the NGOs, the Haitian elite, the Haitian work force and the diaspora.
The role of the government is clear. The greatest challenges facing organizations evolving in Haiti remain public security and customs issues. While security conditions have improved, the customs system in Haiti, infamously known as les douanes, still suffers from the black hole syndrome — that is, everything goes in…nothing comes out. The call is for the Haitian government to redouble its efforts to continue to improve security and simplify the process of moving equipments through customs, be it personal items or company property. Fortunately, the President of the Republic, Michel Martelly is in favour of such reforms and is well aware of the need to build up public infrastructure – roads, sanitation, hospitals, etc.
There needs to be a shift to invest in technical training instead of so-called traditional education — that is, a shifting of funds to polytechnical schools with an emphasis on food growing and water rehabilitation. After so many months in survival mode, the country needs to change gears to self-sustaining enterprises.
THE HAITIAN ELITE
The elite must step out of its usual reluctance and envision its wealth growing along with the growth of the country. The wealthy of Haiti now have a unique opportunity to participate in the empowering of this new generation. We are all too familiar with the usual American or diaspora-powered non-profit organization. It is time for those who have accumulated wealth in Haiti to show initiative. First, a new commitment to paying taxes. Second, the development of the ability to live with competition (from within and without Haiti). Third, to create and empower a Haiti-based charity in the name of Haitian business owners. Such an organization would have an enormous impact on class relations in Haiti.
THE WORKING CLASS
As far as the majority population is concerned, there needs to be a change in emphasis. Generally, Haitians are in love with education, especially higher education. Moreover, a wide majority of Haitians believe that the only sure way out of poverty is to become a doctor, lawyer, an engineer or a professor. This mindset is passé and unrealistic in today’s world. Our youngsters need to learn to envision and embrace alternative routes to financial success. Haiti is a nation in ruins that needs rebuilding. In the same manner that war brings hardship and prosperity, the recent Haitian catastrophes should produce a new generation of construction and water rehabilitation-savvy technicians. The destroyed buildings and landmarks should be the motivation to spark a turnaround. Our people should engross themselves in learning techniques of sound construction, water rehabilitation, food growing, electricity and alternative sources of power, and the role that technology plays in all of that. The youth of Haiti has an extraordinary opportunity at hand, but in order to seize the moment, it must start thinking in terms of innovative business creation and business ownership.
THE HAITIAN DIASPORA
In 2008, an estimated $1.8 billion dollars was infused into the Haitian economy by the diaspora. Ninety percent of Haiti’s federal budget flows through remittances, foreign banks and microfinance institutions. The Haitian economy would collapse without the support of the diaspora. In light of the drastic reduction in the number of random crimes and kidnappings, there has never been a better time for the diaspora to invest in Haiti. We should support technical schools, invest prudently, encourage entrepreneurship, and, last but not least, we should visit. Haiti still boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, not to mention the countryside. We should bring our families and take advantage of affordable vacations. This will, in turn, support local businesses and artists.
Admittedly, the development of a third-world country like Haiti can be an excruciatingly slow process. However, the upside is that significant advances can be made without the full advent of industrialization. The coming together of five different interest groups of the Haitian community would spell progress for Haiti’s economy and society in ways we have not seen in modern times.
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.