Monday, August 12, 2013

Dear USAID Haiti Mission

A former American colleague from an INGO told me once that his work here was largely motivated by a desire to see Haitians “stay at home.”

Far from being offended, I was elated. What a happy coincidence, I thought: we both want the same thing: a successful Haiti, clean, green, stable, and prosperous that would entice her children to choose it as home. No “boat people.” No riots, no public disturbances requiring a “US response.” 

The following list is an outcome of that conversation. It addresses the United States of America, more specifically, its all-powerful expression here, USAID.

Here it is:

Dear USAID Haiti Mission, be America here. Think big! Dream the spectacular!

It is simple. You have so much money and power. Don't believe the doomsdayists and the ney-sayers. Haiti is not "complex." Not at all. Our society is so simple so as to be simplistic. Here are seven specific components:

1) As you say often, Haiti will not be successful without full governmental leadership. So keep working with the Haitian government, facilitating both good and strong governance. You are the United States of America. All Haitians want to go there. Some want to live there. No more than a simple threat to revoke a visa or green card would do wonders. Institute audits by US firms of presidents, prime and other ministers, and members of Parliament. Help them understand that their entry on US soil is conditioned on no significant findings of corruption or serious crimes such as rapes, murders, drug-trafficking. This is easy. No international law or immunity issues. You are sovereign over your territory.

2) Support a "visible development." Let the majority of your precious US dollars be invested in physical infrastructure, big and small: houses, parks, family centers, tree planting, hospitals, highways, power plants, airports, etc. Think about how much easier it would be for the M&E staff: no costly "base-line" studies, no complex "household surveys," no “confounding factors.” Just before and after pictures ("In XXXX, children and youths had no safe place to play. Now, there is a family center in the town square, where children benefit from wholesome after school activities such as sports and music lessons. Elected officials and parents work to maintain it, and are ecstatic, and teen pregnancy has been reduced by 55%).

3) Ban NGO-made, life-sapping language: shelter, cash-for-work, clusters, no work capacity, distributions, etc. Replace them by success-inspired words: jobs, houses, businesses, parents, competition, etc.

People are transformed through work, cash-earning jobs, not endless sessions of “awareness-raising.”

Ban the term "capacity-building" altogether, as applicable to a one-way "knowledge transfer" to Haitians from INGOs. It's a lie, and a damaging one at that. (Though “skill-building” may be a good thing, such as ESL or IT.)

4) Find a way to give power and visibility to Haitian professionals working within INGOs that receive funds from you. It is now clear that those organizations have not "produced" in spite of the millions you have poured in their coffers. So take this most American decision, change.

That change need not be drastic. It can be as simple as a requirement that all proposals have significant input from folks who understand and are vested in the local reality.

Haitian professionals, almost to the person, do not have to be in Haiti. Most of us can legally move to Naples or New-York or Nantucket. We are here because we wish to live at home. We think it will change, and want to work on the ground for that glorious day. We are your natural partners!

5) Replace the damaging focus on "the poor-est" Haitians, and start including the "readi-est," regardless of where they fall on the economic scale. While I don't suggest American money should somehow find its way to wealthy Haitians, it would be good to consider how the middle class, the professional class can achieve more. What if "aid" could be used to "complete" existing resources, as well as going to those with no monetary resources at all.

6) Implement a "no-harm" analysis for all projects. This already exists for environmental issues. Add to that list three key institutions: the government, the formal private sector, and the nuclear family. Outside of those three pillars, Haiti cannot be good.

7) And this is the most important: Be inspired and optimistic. Decide that Haiti will succeed in the next five (5) years, not just improve; that it will prosper, not just stabilize. The "just maintain" approach is expensive, and it is not worthy of the United States of America. It is simply un-American to settle. Don't do it here, please.

P.S.: I do have some sense that you are doing some of that: would you please continue and expend?