Remarks by Haiti Special Coordinator Kenneth Merten - Elevating Haiti and Its Diaspora
Special Coordinator for Haiti
I would like to thank the National Association of Haitian Professionals for kindly inviting me to speak at this 4th Annual Conference. I would also like to thank the sponsors and partners whose work and dedication made this conference possible. And finally, a special appreciation to all of you who traveled from faraway cities to take part in this important conference.
It is always an honor for me to engage directly with those who share a love and appreciation for Haiti, and I am delighted to be with you this morning.
One of Haiti’s great resources is its ability to cultivate lasting friends from around the world. And I think everyone agrees that Haiti cultivates these friends through the quality of its people. When I first arrived in Haiti, I was a young Foreign Service officer representing my country for the first time overseas. I did not know that this would be the beginning of a long and deeply rooted relationship. I returned to Haiti ten years later to serve a second tour, and was back in country as Ambassador ten years after that.
My experience is not unique. In fact, my office is full of dedicated professionals who have served in Haiti or have a long-standing commitment to issues important to Haiti. They exhibit a passion in their work that can only come from a binding attachment to the people of Haiti, and a drive to collaborate with our Haitian partners for a peaceful and prosperous future.
In my work as a diplomat, I meet Americans who have devoted years of their lives to Haiti, and plan to continue in this vein for many years to come. They are health professionals, missionaries, business people, and volunteers on a variety of projects. Haiti has touched each and every one of them in a deeply personal way that has changed their lives.
But the greatest friend and advocate Haiti has is you, the Haitian Diaspora. Though you live in Miami or Boston, Montreal or New York, you have maintained an admirable pride and loyalty for Haiti and, I can tell from your presence here this morning, you remain ready to help Haiti into the future.
I meet regularly with groups from the Haitian Diaspora, in Washington as well as in other cities in the United States. I am always impressed with their fervent desire to engage in Haiti. Some are students eager to return to their native land to help rebuild the country. Others are looking for opportunities for commercial investment. Many have their own ideas of what needs to be done in Haiti, and are looking for financial support from the U.S. government or other groups. None, however, are indifferent.
I was particularly moved by the story of two American college students who traveled to Haiti and were inspired by the resilience and fortitude of the people to create their own NGO, Projects for Haiti. Their goal was to strengthen the Haitian education system by hosting professional development conferences for educators. Priscilla Zelaya and Haitian-American Bertrhude Albert have now built a team that has trained over 1500 teachers from all over Haiti. They then increased their commitment by organizing leadership conferences for women and youth, and launched a business program that promotes entrepreneurial skills and provides microloans for small businesses.
This story of two women, who started with nothing but a dream of a better future for the Haitian people, demonstrates that imagination, courage and tenacity can result in successful engagement in Haiti today.
There are, of course, many ways to engage in Haiti. Perhaps the simplest is to visit Haiti, and see for yourself what needs to be done and where you might fit in, just like these two women did.
Another way to become involved in Haiti is to work or volunteer through the many NGOs that currently have programs there. Faith-based groups have also been particularly active in the country and welcome the participation of those willing to give of their time through volunteer work in Haiti.
For those of you with specialized skills, Haiti presents a wealth of opportunities in the fields of health care, sanitation, education, farming, and may other areas. All you have to do is search on line for something that suits your skill set and schedule. The rest is up to you.
All of these suggestions present opportunities for individuals to become directly engaged in Haiti, to go and work in Haiti, to share the richness of Haitian culture and experience the many challenges facing the Haitian people. People who engage in such visits are in turn greatly enriched by their experiences. They return with a renewed sense of purpose and accomplishment. The privilege of your expertise acquired abroad coupled with the enhanced cultural insights of the Diaspora enables you to exercise the responsibility of giving back to Haiti in a unique way.
One of the most effective and far-reaching ways to engage in Haiti is through private investment. Private investment creates jobs, creates wealth, and builds sustainable economic growth, a growth that continues on its own momentum year after year as it improves lives and raises the standard of living. This, in turn, empowers Haitians to take charge of their own destiny, to send their kids to school so that the next generation has it a little easier than their fathers and mothers did. Private investment provides the financial stability required to raise families in peace and security. It allows children to experience the happiness of childhood, without the fear that they will have to toil or beg to help bring food to the table.
Increasingly, the climate of political stability means private investment has the potential for changing Haiti for the better. It can alter the “poorest country in the hemisphere” label to a Haiti open to business and opportunity. Private investment can reverse the brain drain that has deprived Haiti of all but a tiny fraction of its university-educated citizens. It multiplies wealth so that capital is spread over a greater swath of the population. Private investment spreads the abundance of Haiti among the people of Haiti.
Along these lines, I was delighted to learn that a member of the Haitian Diaspora in the fragrance business in Florida recently opened an operation in Haiti, where he packages and sells perfumes for the Haitian market. Pierre Latouche and UB Fragrances currently employ 35 Haitians at the Caracol Industrial Park, and plan to increase the work force to over 100 next year. When asked why he expanded to Haiti, Pierre replied: “I wanted to give something back to the country where I was born, and I have no regrets.” This is the kind of inspiring business venture that benefits both the entrepreneur and local community, as it creates jobs and opens new markets.
The U.S. government, through Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, stands ready to support businesses interested in investing in Haiti. OPIC has already provided investors into Haiti with over $90 million for financing, loan guarantees, and political risk insurance over the past five years, and will continue to help American businesses expand into emerging markets like Haiti, contributing to jobs and growth opportunities. USTDA promotes economic growth in emerging economies such as Haiti by facilitating the participation of U.S. businesses in the planning and execution of priority development projects. USTDA funds project planning activities, pilot projects, and reverse trade missions.
We’ve spent a lot of effort over the past 20 years trying to figure out how to best partner with you, the Haitian diaspora.
One of the State Department’s marquee programs - “IdEA” – the International diaspora Engagement Alliance, was launched in 2011 by the State Department’s Office of Global Partnerships, and centers on diaspora engagement for diplomacy and development. Throughout the year, IdEA provides opportunities to plug into various initiatives, including:
- MicroMentor: an online tool that matches diaspora entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors on a single platform to strengthen entrepreneurship initiatives.
- Capacity Building Workshops: these are both online and in-person workshops that are designed to provide expert guidance to diaspora-driven organizations on structure, defining goals and working towards realistic objectives.
- Investment Initiatives: working in close partnership with the Calvert Foundation, IdEA launches investment initiatives that enable diaspora communities to invest in their countries of affinity for as little as $20 and is available online.
- Global Diaspora Week (GDW): GDW is a week-long celebration of diaspora communities and their contributions to diplomacy and development globally. GDW is typically held in October and enables organizations to showcase initiatives and promote dialogue around diaspora engagement. In 2015, GDW enabled nearly 100 events globally. In fact, my last trip to Miami, to the Little Haiti Community Center was organized through Global Diaspora Week.
Several programs have been run through USAID. USAID has been a key player in rebuilding Haiti following the earthquake, and has extended its current strategy through 2018. USAID encourages and facilitates private sector investment through public-private partnerships in Haiti.
To ensure that USAID will have a lasting effect in Haiti, programs mainly target three areas of the country—Port-au-Prince, St. Marc and Cap Haïtien— known collectively as development corridors. By focusing on these three corridors, we hope to foster the creation of new economic poles throughout the country to support the Government of Haiti’s goal of decentralization. For instance, the USG, together with Inter-American Development Bank is currently investing heavily in the North Corridor through the creation of an industrial park and the provision of electricity to the park and four nearby communes.
For those interested in partnering with USAID, there are three opportunities for Diaspora investment to contribute to Haiti’s economic growth, especially in the areas of agriculture, garment, and construction:
Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investments (LEAD)
The Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investments (LEAD) project improves access to investment capital for Haitian businesses and strengthens their business skills. The project has attracted investments in Haitian small and medium enterprises through a matching grants program. The project also explores innovative ways to promote Diaspora philanthropy through pooled remittances for social investments or small infrastructure projects. In fact, 35% of applicants to the LEAD Business Plan Competition are from the Haitian Diaspora. One LEAD grant helped Haitian entrepreneur Edouard Carrié expand his recycling business, which simultaneously helps to keep the streets, canals and vacant lots of Port-au-Prince clean and provides an income to 6,000 Haitians. Another grant helped Surtab, a Haitian company, produce a tablet that is more affordable for Haitians than its Apple or Samsung counterparts. Surtab provides jobs for 56 Haitians at four times the minimum wage, giving employees the skills and income to provide a sustainable path out of poverty.
Local Enterprise and Value Chain Enhancement (LEVE)
USAID launched the Local Enterprise and Value Chain Enhancement (LEVE) project to foster broad-based economic growth and increase employment in Haiti. LEVE is designed to create jobs in target industry sectors in the Port-au-Prince, Saint-Marc, and Cap-Haïtien development corridors by using a “value chain approach,” from input suppliers to end market buyers. Through LEVE, a grant made in July helped train 50 women from Village la Difference in sewing skills and will help place the women in the Sae-A factory at the CARACOL Industrial Park. Entrepreneur Carlo Darbouze, from the Diaspora community, established the Centre de Transformation Agro-Industriel (CETAI), an agribusiness dedicated to processing agricultural goods in Cabaret that later expanded operations to Santo 9 and Criox des Bouquets. Through USAID's LEVE project, CETAI will create a packaging plant in Santo that will decrease both food waste and the demand for imported food.
Global Development Alliance (GDA)
The Global Development Alliance (GDA) invites organizations to form public-private alliances to carry out activities in support of USAID's international development objectives. GDA proposals address critical development problems. Potential alliance partners are expected to bring significant new resources, ideas, technologies, and/or partners to development activities. Successful proposals will mobilize private sector contributions, both cash and in-kind resources, on at least a one-to-one basis. Partners include diaspora groups, foundations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private businesses, business and trade associations, colleges and universities, and many others.
The U.S. government actively seeks the participation of the Haitian Diaspora as investors and volunteers. I urge bidders for contracts with USAID or other U.S. government agencies to visit www.grants.gov.
These programs recognize that the Haitian Diaspora is an amazing resource, one that understands the culture and language of Haiti, and is willing to put its knowledge to good use.
Another resource is to reach out to Haitians who have been on U.S.-government-sponsored programs. These alumni work in all sectors and are renowned for their qualities of leadership. They typically return from an exchange program in the United States with innovative ideas that can benefit Haiti. You may be just the connection they need. Our Embassy in Port-au-Prince can help you establish that connection.
We also welcome fresh and constructive ideas from all of you, as we are always looking for mechanisms to further involve diaspora groups.
In closing, let me say that all of us seek very much the same things for Haiti. We seek political stability, economic opportunity, and security for all Haitians. The road is not always an easy one. As in all countries, there will be challenges and pitfalls, successes and failures, but the important thing is to keep striving, to keep pressing on.
For this, for a Haiti at the helm of its own destiny, let us work together.