Archive for February 17th, 2012

February 17, 2012

Haiti: A Young Professional’s Compelling Lessons for All Nonprofits

It’s been just over two years since a catastrophic, magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. Today, the people of that small island nation continue to suffer.

What lessons should the nonprofit community have learned by now in order to better help Haiti? What lessons can all foreign aid organizations learn from Haiti that can be applied anywhere? What lessons can all nonprofit organizations learn from Haiti that will help them be more successful, whether they operate internationally or even domestically?

These were the questions running through my mind as I watched news coverage of the anniversary of the earthquake. Then, I learned that a friend of mine was back in the United States after returning home for Christmas to visit family and friends in Haiti.

Soon after her return to the U.S., I had lunch with Isabelle Clérié (@iclerie). For those of you who don’t know Isabelle, you should. She’s a sharp nonprofit young-professional. She’s done work for a number of non-governmental organizations in Haiti. She now works on the capital campaign team at the Franklin Institute, the largest science museum in Philadelphia. Isabelle holds a Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management from Florida Atlantic University.

Isabelle and I talked about what she found in Haiti and the enormous challenges that remain there. I invited Isabelle to write a guest post that would begin to address some of my questions. I’m grateful that she agreed to write the following post.

Haiti has much it can teach us. I thank Isabelle, a Haitian with an American-education who is a nonprofit professional, for sharing her unique insights that can benefit us all:


Clean-up in Haiti with Oxfam's cash-for-work program. (2010)

During my last trip home to Haiti, I was repeatedly asked why I wasn’t working there. It was assumed that as a nonprofit professional, living in a country brimming with NGOs would naturally be “heaven” for me; with jobs aplenty, organizations of all shapes and sizes; it’s a veritable nonprofit buffet of opportunity! But, there are also enormous challenges.

The topic of NGOs in Haiti is a popular one, usually discussed under an umbrella of criticism and distrust. My intention here is not to point fingers but to shed some light so NGOs working in Haiti and in other underdeveloped countries, even those working in the U.S., can actually have the impact they advertise if they consider the following:

Be an anthropologist.

NGOs working in underdeveloped countries are too often guilty of ethnocentrism. They come with good intent and programs bursting with the potential to truly change the circumstances they exist to combat, but they do not consider the culture of the country and its people.

It is so important for NGOs to work with the people they are serving. I’m not saying to go out into a community and take a survey. I mean that before NGOs invest everything in a program or project they really need to get to know the community in which they’ll be working. Underdeveloped though it may be, Haiti is not without its ways of doing things. Despite the political climate, there are social conventions that, if observed, can save a lot of time and frustration.

Don’t assume that people are incapable because they are uneducated and do not assume that they don’t understand when they are being taken advantage of. The majority of Haitians may be uneducated, but ignorance is not stupidity.

Work together!

I know. So obvious and, yet, so uncommon. For nonprofits, especially those working in developing areas, working together does not have to mean sharing financial resources. In fact, collaborative efforts will save oodles of time and money.

I was working with a group that had undertaken to refurbish a girls’ orphanage in Haiti. I developed a framework for the project that identified and prioritized all of the components from construction, education, health, and even the self-esteem needs of the girls. I was adamant about working with other organizations and suggested that we work with different organizations in very much the same way that a business would get outside services (i.e.: printing and cleaning).

We wanted to have feminine health professionals not only perform regular exams for the girls, but also to hold sexual education seminars, and teach them about STDs and how they can protect themselves. I identified a group that did exactly that and proposed that the orphanage become one of their service recipients. We would determine a schedule for medical visits as well as the seminars and that’s that. No money is dispensed on our side, and the other group does what it does so well.

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