What is required of us to be in solidarity with a country like Haiti while avoiding a model of dependency?
I have had a very long history with Haiti, first travelling there in the late sixties as a teenager with my father. He was consumed with the above question. It shaped a fascinating, year-long correspondence. Such questions are rarely asked in the development world, largely because it requires too much of us. It takes vision and guts to take this kind of high road. I credit my Dad for having both.
Back in the eighties, there wasn’t any money in “empowering people to be Masters of their own Destiny,” as my Dad was fond of saying. To many, I think he sounded like a kook. There were times I thought the same thing of him. However, I adored him. I became afflicted with the same vision.
Just about any vision worth its salt requires a foundation of principles and values; such that are less about physical structures and activities and more about affirming our humanity, leading us toward productive and peaceful communities through respectful relationships. As common-sense as this sounds, it is a tough thing to fund because a donor cannot as easily visualize the transformation of human lives. It also repositions the role of the donor and places the beneficiaries at the heart of their own development process. This becomes a different kind of “feel good” benefit that many people often can’t get their head around.
So, what does such an approach look like? How have we understood what it takes to effectively work in a country such as Haiti? Aside from knowing that we can save ourselves about ten years by putting Haitians on the front line (we have no foreigners on staff) and believing there is solid expertise and commitment already in country (not all Haitians are poor and illiterate), we take an investment-based approach that focuses on what people have and what they can do. This is the foundation to fostering mutually respectful and productive relationships. Here are the top ten points:
- We are responsive as opposed to interventionist. We only work with communities upon personal (and written) invitation.
- We undertake a very thorough assessment process to determine the resources, needs, capacity, motivation, etc. of the community. Following this, we typically prepare a three-year plan based on the findings.
- We are strict adherents and practitioners of participatory methodology, which is the foundation of owner-based development.
- Every partnership with a community involves a written commitment to participate in a (cooperative) business model and identified business activity and list of potential members.
- We abide by the Seven International Principles of Cooperative that must be upheld in honouring the stated conditions of the partnership.
- Members must be invested shareholders, with the value of each share being determined by the membership of each cooperative.
- They must be participating members as well as financially invested and must reside in the vicinity of the cooperative.
- They must host an Annual General Meeting and all positions of each committee must be selected through a transparent electoral process.
- Once the commitment is established with a community, we provide a bank of resources in the areas of business enterprise (cooperative), economic activity (agriculture related) and member capacity (which is centered on a three-year adult literacy program). As cooperatives evolve and their needs become more sophisticated, so do our services, such as credit loans, audit services, financing irrigation systems, seed storage silos, housing assistance, cholera/health training, interim relief (due to drought/disaster), and so on.
- All cooperatives operate as autonomous, self managed enterprises, which, as they evolve, begin to serve as the leadership and resource centers of the community.
I believe what makes this model work where others fail is our articulation and understanding of the myriad of psychosocial obstacles that are endemic to the country of Haiti. I have rarely read a proposal that acknowledges these and then prepares a plan to address them accordingly.
My father is a real gem; a great visionary. It is a noble legacy that I share along with thousands of peasant men and women in Haiti who, today, are proud enterprising farmers able to provide for their families and be transformational leaders in their communities.
by Betsy Wall, Executive Director, FIDA