Insights From Working In Haiti

By Meg Orazio, Hope for Haiti’s Chief Impact Officer

I’ve had the incredible privilege of working with Hope for Haiti since 2014 and have learned some subtle (and not so subtle) nuances of sustainable impact, project design, and organizational management. In terms of IMPACT, I think there is sometimes a misconception among donors that the best way to make a difference is through transactional giving – often a distribution, or one-time donation of a good/service/product, like providing toys or pencils to children. While this type of charity can make children happy in the moment, it rarely addresses the long-term economic needs of the children’s families and/or schools.  Rather than transactional giving like this, I’ve seen donors maximize the impact they make by taking a longer term approach to investing in existing systems. For example, instead of sending a child a gift, investing in three-year teacher training for teachers, financing a four-year post-secondary scholarship, or helping build new classrooms can lead to greater and more sustainable impact. This kind of giving also ensures that children have a safe school to go to, a qualified & motivated teacher to learn from, and options for higher education. The return on investments in education have long-term payoffs, and those who support the improvement and strengthening of  systems can help achieve a much greater impact. 

During my time in Haiti, I’ve seen significant improvements in the program design of implementing organizations. Where once programs were being designed by stakeholders outside of Haiti to be implemented by staff living in Haiti, we are now seeing the program design process led by local Haitian leaders,  community activists, and young adults. This is the case for Hope for Haiti, where 99% percent of our Les Cayes team is Haitian, and they drive our annual strategic planning process which informs our programs and projects for the upcoming three years. Listening, learning and using local voices, skills and experiences is what makes our work most successful. Along with local solutions, program design begins with SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals and asks “what’s the long-term goal?” So if you’re trying to fight poverty, start with Education. Keep families together by providing economic opportunities for both mothers and fathers so that they can send their children to school and work towards a better future together.

And to have the most impact and transformational program design, it’s really important to prioritize organizational management. A good starting place for any organization is establishing core values that are created, understood and adapted by all staff. Having shared core values that influence the rhythm of your organization will make a world of difference when approaching tough decisions, facilitating meetings, and managing day-to-day operations. Once your team is on board with core values, it will be easier to create a culture of accountability, trust and transparency. Working for an American organization that operates in Haiti, there are cultural differences, communication challenges (more than just language!), and different ways of life. We have to remember that we are guests in Haiti, and that our goal isn’t to replace, judge or condemn the way things work, but rather support and partner with existing institutions, leaders and ways of life. Having core values, like at Hope for Haiti, we are able to tackle challenges as a bi-national team with mutual respect and a shared passion for our mission.