Thankfully, the natural instinct of the global community is “how can I help?” when disaster hits. As we grow through this current disaster in Haiti, perhaps the question should develop into, “How can I invest in Haiti?”
A 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, probably killing more than 150,000 people and destroying countless homes and businesses. Since then the international community has been trying to deliver emergency aid to rescue those buried in ruble and assist those who survived. The devastation and destruction in Haiti is a complete blow to an already challenged poor country. Now the real work begins and this is an opportunity to do it right.
Haiti’s challenges have been consistent over the last century whether it is poverty; good governance; rampant disease; illiteracy and corruption. Haiti is the third largest country in the Caribbean (behind Cuba and the Dominican Republic) and yet the poorest country in the Americas (even ranked 142d of 182 countries in the world). Turbulence was inevitable with the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the discovery of gold. Slavery, racism and conflicts over control of the western half of the island of Hispaniola became a way of life. Haiti was a failed state before the earthquake hit and now certainly is after the earthquake. Given that this was not an ignored country the responsibility of failure should be shared.
The question is how can the international community really help especially after the television cameras disappear to cover the next crisis. The international community can invest in new buildings, energy efficiency, reliable and relevant health care, educational systems and new technology. I would propose that anyone doing business in Haiti whether it is a government organization; a non-governmental organization; a non-profit/charity; a religious organization; an individual donor – basically any enterprise, which has any dealings with Haiti- take an oath of fair business.
With a business way of thinking, if success is not being accomplished, plans can change and be adapted to a new formula for success. Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In business, there is a reality, either it is working or it isn’t. If it isn’t working, a new plan for success is created.
My suggestion is to integrate fair business principles to lead good governance; economic opportunities; education for all; and basic health rights.
Good governance: Any technical and financial assistance must require improved governance capabilities, mentorship and offer solutions. Apparently a large US scientific government organization alerted Haiti to the potential of tremendous seismic activity in Haiti years ago and offered no solutions. Common sense would indicated that if a problem can be identified at least offer a solution.
Economic advancement: Any organization doing business in Haiti must be willing to set the standards – pay a fair wage; ensure rights of the worker; ensure skilled training; and stimulate the local economy. When financial aid is supplied, rules of transparency and financial accountability needs to be agreed upon. How many challenged government representatives have enormous amounts of money in overseas banks? Capital flight must be prevented. To do so, a stable government and banking mentorship is required. On the other hand, international organizations that designate funds for assistance should make spending the funds locally a priority. If the donor country requires purchasing supplies (medical, food, clothing, housing needs, etc.) from the donor country and then shipping to country in need; it would appear to benefit the donor country more than the country in need. Spending locally is clearly more cost effective with the additional benefit that it stimulates the local economy.
Health is a human right: Clean water; maternal health; vaccinations and overall basic health education needs to be a priority without the interference of religious or political dialogue. Why is clean water still even an issue around the world? Clean water is vital.
Coordination: If any crisis area has been determined to need assistance, it is imperative that a coordinated approach needs to be taken within the entire emergency area and then recovery. A zip code approach would remove duplications and provide transparency. If priorities were identified for each zone, duplication and irrelevant activities would be minimized.
For Haiti, thinking out of the box is vital now. Aid dollars need to be invested differently now. I emphasize invest because financial support is an investment in the future capabilities of Haiti. Investing in charities only builds charities and is not creating self-sustaining opportunities.
Investing in a transparent, socially responsible, accountable organization is vital to changing the dynamic on the ground. With a little bit of broadminded thinking, purchases and donations become growth opportunities. Rebuilding Haiti is the opportunity for a 21st century Marshall Plan. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.
An easy option is to purchase items made in the crisis country be it art, furniture, produce, clothing, machinery, etc. If it says “Made in Haiti” buy it. (See www.VivaTerra.com.)
In addition, a multitude of investment options are available. Options include investing in health care, education, refugee support, loans, housing, green building, energy efficiency and venture capital funds. Think outside of the box. Ask questions. Invest in building the nation up not rebuilding the status quo.
Some organizations to consider as recommended by the Social Investment Forum Foundation and Green America include:
ACCION International – Microfinance
Calvert Social Investment – Loan fund
Catholic Relief Services – Microfinance
Developing World Markets – Bank
Emergency Liquidity Facility – Venture Capital Fund
FINCA International – Microfinance
Fonkoze – Microfinance
Freedom from Hunger – Microfinance
Habitat for Humanity International – Housing developer
Mennonite Economic Development Associates – Venture Capital Fund
Oikocredit – Loan Fund
SERRV International – Social Enterprise
Businesses have a powerful role to play in any society. It is time to think out of the box when a crisis hits and invest in for-profit enterprises to create jobs, stability, health, security and start to leverage the talents of the community.
Make a difference, invest in Haiti.
By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, D.C.
Read more at Ode magazine Exchange.
Viva Terra, a home interior business, sells special Haitian artisan pieces. A great example of doing business, offering technical assistance and offering the most critical element – linking to the market. See more at www.vivaterra.com .
Stephen Jordan, Business Civic Leadership Center, sent a thoughtful e-mail out on the important role of businesses in rebuilding Haiti.
A friend has asked for a local emergency aid group. Research Christian Relief Services. They will direct all of the funds donated through the web site directly to the Fondation pour les Enfants d’Haiti. Read more at: http://www.christianrelief.org/feh.htm