CROSS-POST: Let's tell the other story of Haiti

Katalina with CRI staff.

Katalina with CRI staff.

This is a cross-post from TheYouFinder.com, the website of our friend and colleague Katalina Mayorga.  We've been working with Katalina on and off for over a year now, and she recently visited us in Haiti and helped lead us through some crucial branding strategizing and capacity building.  

I am back from an incredibly productive and invigorating trip to Haiti, visiting the Carbon Roots International (CRI) team and the many other stakeholders along their green charcoal supply chain.  I have discussed their innovative business model in this past blog post.

There were too many “aha” moments then I can count, and thus, there is much for me to reflect on. I can guarantee that I will be publicly documenting this reflection process through the blog so thank you in advance for bearing with me. I guess I will start with this– I come back feeling that the media and the field of international development have unfairly let the ills of extreme poverty and failed development dominate the story of Haiti. Yes, there is a lot of that, but there is a much more hopeful and exciting narrative that unfortunately is rarely highlighted. This is the story of the many Haitian protagonists who are hustling and doing everything in their power to create the future they want for themselves and their families. These individuals are not idly waiting for some multimillion-dollar development or government program to one day benefit them, but are proactive in creating opportunity out of very little. I saw this entrepreneurial and creative spirit all around me.

Tita with her fellow producers.

Tita with her fellow producers.

Take for example the story of Tita, CRI’s first female char producer I had the privilege of meeting. When she realized she could easily earn extra income by turning agricultural waste into a product of value, she did not only start doing this herself, but additionally, she organized and trained a collective of women within her community to start producing char alongside herself. She knew that banning together they could streamline the production process, yield more char than if they worked individually, and thus earn more money. She did not have to attend a workshop to “teach” her how to become an entrepreneur and a better businesswoman, being an entrepreneur and developing more efficient processes was second nature to Tita. Tita saw this opportunity and acted on it because as she said in her own words, "I know that when I get paid on Saturday for the bags of char I produce, I can then feed my kids and pay for their education on Sunday."

As we walked away from Tita’s community, I could not help but be reminded how often aid programs undervalue the human capital of creativity and great ideas that already exists within a community; how often they fail to leverage the knowledge of those that they are trying to work with. Tita is one of several people I met in Haiti that demonstrate the tremendous opportunity to do this and consequentially promote a different framework for international development; a framework where we switch the role of the “technical expert” and “beneficiary.” The experts should not be seen as professionals from the outside, but instead the “beneficiaries” themselves.  They understand the challenges their community confronts, what they want and desire as parents, women, consumers, and possess the smarts it takes to uplift their community. They understand these simple but important factors better than any of us from the outside could. So what is our role as international development professionals? I believe our role is to simply be a facilitator, a medium for them to express their ideas, have their ideas be heard, and then incorporated into the business model. Our role is to continuously tell the story of Tita so that this untraditional framework becomes second nature to us international development professionals.

Until next time,

Katalina