‍Michèle D. Pierre-Louis' Keynote Speech at The Fifth Haiti Funders Conference

À l’initiative de Haiti Development Institute, FOKAL et Ayiti Demen, la 5ème conférence des Bailleurs pour Haïti a été réalisée à Washington du 12 au 14 juin 2023. Cet événement a mobilisé des représentants de plusieurs organisations basées en Haïti et à l’étranger. Pour ouvrir la conférence, la Présidente de la FOKAL, Mme Michèle D. Pierre-Louis a prononcé un discours à la fois captivant et inspirant sur « Comment la philanthropie peut-elle contribuer à l’avancement d’Haïti ? Elle a aussi adressé la situation actuelle d’Haïti et le rôle que doivent jouer les différents acteurs, tant nationaux qu’internationaux, pour redresser cette situation.

Lisez ci-dessous l'intégralité du discours.



The Fifth Haiti Funders Conference                                       Keynote Speech

Washington, D. C.                                                                  Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis

June 12-14, 2023


5th Haiti Funders Conference Tuesday 3 MPL keynoteI want to thank the Haiti Development Institute and its Executive Director Pierre Noel for inviting me to offer the keynote for this Funders Conference and I hope my opening remarks will meet the expectations of the organizers by touching on a few important issues that can lead to honest and productive debates and conclusions today and tomorrow.

I was asked to consider how best to meet this moment and support interventions that will bolster and usher in systemic change. I will start by questioning “this moment”.

We all know how life-threatening today’s situation in Haiti is. Political deadlock, high insecurity due to gang violence, environmental fragility, unchecked migration, brain drain, economic stagnation, food insecurity, and a collapse of State institutions that has been a long time coming through decades of missed opportunities and imposed international policies that tragically weakened local capacities. We Haitians have our own issues to confront but isn’t it the whole world that seems to be in crisis? And aren’t we constantly experiencing the devastating effects of manmade disasters caused by the developed world, with limited means to protect ourselves? For example, the expanded US production of easily accessible guns and assault weapons that are just as easily smuggled to Haiti with catastrophic results. When we look at what is going on in so many countries worldwide, we realize how long and strenuous is the path to transforming in a sustained way the living conditions of our own targeted marginalized population, children and youth, smallholder farmers, women, artists and artisans, etc.

Today, politics seem to no longer mean caring for the affairs of the city, the search for the common good and upholding public interest. In many countries, the disconnect between the power structure and its constituencies is abyssal and what we too often hear about is corruption, lies, mismanagement of funds, endless wars, disregard of constitutional and legal rights, distortion of the check and balance system, alternate realities, denial of history, all serious issues that dominate what we learn daily of governments and of the highest institutions. And some believe that this is the way it should be.

At home, when we see government officials, past and present being sanctioned for crimes of corruption, massacres, gang relations, and yet participating in international and national events.

At the social level, the thirst for endless profits from legal and not so legal businesses has widened the divide of our communities’ social fabric. A situation French philosopher Jacques Rancière describes as “la fracture entre les gens de biens et les gens de rien ». The fracture between the rich and the poor as a factor of increasing inequalities. The World Inequality Report 2022 informs that “The world’s richest 10 per cent own more than three quarters of global wealth”.

The social categories already historically marginalized pay the highest price. The youth have lost confidence in the future, a large majority remains unemployed and seeks alternative ways to give sense to a life that seems meaningless: drugs, criminality, jail, or migration under dangerous conditions.

Yes, we live in a world of violence, unsafe for all. Even scientific progress creates major disruptions in our planetary system by contribution to pollution, health issues and climate change. The crisis has penetrated our minds and threaten our human dignity. We are indeed grappling with a major crisis of values.

All this describes the somber side of our reality that does affect our morale and the way we conduct our activities. Paradoxically, there is another side in “this moment”, that of hard work, resistance, solidarity, empathy, a world of care, learning, community engagement, good causes, radical joy and hope. That is where philanthropy plays a major role if we are faithful to its etymological meaning: philos love, anthropos, humankind.

At FOKAL I have called the communities where positive change occurs despite adverse conditions, “pockets of hope”. They are our success stories that need to be told and upheld. Communities and organizations in all geographic departments that struggle hard to keep their dignity and their humanity.

But can we say that these interventions bolster and usher in systemic change, the other component of the question I am supposed to address today?

I will begin by reviewing the major channels for transfers of funds towards Haiti and then try to analyze if they address the causes rather than the symptoms of complex social and political situation, which is what systemic change means.

I will start briefly with the international donors and raise a few questions about the multilateral and bilateral institutions. Their primary partner remains the government, but they sometimes reserve some funding for civil society organizations. I was inspired by a presentation made by economist Daniel Dorsainvil, former Minister of Economy and Finance in the GOH, at a conference held by the Haiti Think Tank in June 2022.

Why have the efforts of multilateral banks and donor governments had so little success in Haiti?

What changes are needed in the design and implementation of programs and projects to improve results?

Why are the conditionalities covering a wide range of sectors supposed to be attained in short terms?

Why is so much money wasted repeatedly year after year while Haiti continues to be the labeled “the poorest country in the hemisphere” ?

I do not have clear answers to those questions, but I know that at the same time,

the lack of palpable results obtained in Haiti is said to cause “Haiti fatigue” within the donor community.  On the receiving end of the aid, those very disappointments generate a “Haitian fatigue” with international donors and their local decision maker relays that stems from prolonged political instability, increasing poverty, bad economic prospects and lost opportunities.

Dorsainvil made a comprehensive and comparative study on where international aid may have failed in the case of Haiti.

I share with you a few of his findings:

  1. “The aid policy designed for Haiti is different from the one that has been conceived for other Least Developed Countries (LDC) in that it has a more humanitarian component than in other countries with similar poverty profiles and needs.
  1. Resources actually spent are far less than the amounts that are committed. This affects the economic sectors more than the social sectors, and there have not been enough Official Development Assistance (ODA) resources allocated to productive sectors.

He identifies six factors that explain the relative ineffectiveness of foreign aid in generating better outcomes in Haiti. They include:

  1. An issue of scale: the effective aid package is generally too little with respect to the challenges
  2. Absence of clearly stated (quantified) medium term economic objectives with well formulated strategies and action plans
  3. The humanitarian trap
  4. Aid resources are leveraged, and there is insuffcient coordination, alignment, stakeholder consultation
  5. Failure to improve GOH’s credibility and legitimacy in the provision of public services
  6. Shocks, natural disasters, political and social upheavals (assassination of a President), health pandemics, high price of gas, etc.”

It is as if Haiti is incapable of creating economic, social, intellectual, symbolic wealth, and only deserves humanitarian aid.

A second sector that transfers funds is the diaspora. I will not get into the complex network of organizations that support families and communities in Haiti. I will just make a note about the remittances that amounted to close to 3.1 billion dollars in 2022.

The study made for CEPAL, Mexico in 2019 by Fritz Duroseau and Edwige Jean on behalf of the Central Bank of Haiti reveals interesting findings. I share some data with you:

  • Remittances count for about 32% of the GDP and represent 10 times the international aid.
  • 72% come from the US; 7% from Chile; 4.4% from Canada; 2.7% from the DR and 2.3% from Brazil.
  • 45% of remmittances are between 100-500 USD; 16.4% between 500-1000 USD; and 23% 1000 USD and above.
  • Most remittances are small amounts received on a monthly basis. They finance basic consumption expenditures (food, education, health, rent). The most frequent profile of senders is the blue collar worker,
  • Remittances positively impact the beneficiairies, reduce poverty and improve the human development indicators: from 1960 to 1980 to 2017, life expectancy at birth grew from 41 to 50 to 64 years, while the GDP per capita moved from 70 to 243 to 768 USD during the same period. GDP per capita at the time of the study was 900 USD; in 2021 it was 1829,59 USD and in 2022, 1283,05 as per the World Bank.
  • Remittances are also an instrument of risk mitigation in difficult times (hurricanes, droughts, funerals and other catastrophes)
  • Some remittances concern land purchase, small business investment owned by migrant workers.

However, while being the main source of foreing currency inflows, remittances also have their negative impact. Haiti is a net importer of goods, thus remittances finance imports of non-productive goods. The flows came with new consumptions habits that make the economy very vulnerable to external price shocks as it has become more dependant on imported goods and services.

And to echo Duroseau and Jean’s study, Daniel Dorsainvil adds:

“It has been documented that remittances that are sent to Haiti help finance consumption (over 80%)[1] rather than investment. Also, much of the country’s consumption (food and other consumer goods) is made up of imported goods because domestic productive capacity is low, and remittance flows may not be as relevant for rapid growth as other resources since it is re-exported to a large measure and therefore does not have a large impact on capital build-up due to import leakage”.

These short reviews shows nonetheless that the interventions from both sectors, the international donors and the remittances seem to yield mixed results at the very best.

The measures of deregulation and structural adjustments imposed by the international donors in the 1990s have dismantled the traditional economic fabric and turned Haiti into a net importer of the most necessary goods that it used to produce. Both the rural areas and the cities are on survival mode.

There is a need to act on both the cities and the rural areas. Different financial sources should serve to support the municipalities, define the rules, the limits, the zoning, the authorizations. Develop useful infrastructures that can create jobs while protecting the environment, natural resources and national heritage. Partnering with universities in Haiti and abroad can help develop new adapted technologies that can increase productivity, and most of all alleviate the weight of rural manpower which is today too expensive for the smallholder farmers.

I will now consider philanthropy.

Interventions of institutions like FOKAL and so many others in this room are made possible through philanthropy, thanks to dedicated donors who believe in our commitment on the ground and share their savoir-faire and experience while providing the financial support that can sustain our strategies. I want to take this opportunity to express how grateful we are to all the donors that fall in that category.

Philanthropy it is said stands on five pillars: inclusion, transparency, empowerment, collaboration, and celebration.

If today our convening is an occasion to celebrate, it is also a time to question, to express our concerns about our own practices regarding inclusion, transparency, empowerment, and most of all collaboration.

Our position in the philanthropic field is very specific. We depend on funds provided by donors, based on shared ethical values, and agreed upon methodologies and procedures, and we distribute those funds to communities, organizations, and social actors to support underfunded causes that government, and often international donors and foreign NGOs do not address.

We are working with people and dealing with systems implying multiple stakeholders. There are fundamental questions to be raised:

  • Do we share among ourselves (staff, donor, targeted population)

 the same definition of concepts such as sustainable development, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, gender justice, racial equity, systemic change, etc.?

  • How sure are we that our work is geared towards emancipation and does not reinforce existing inequalities and marginalization?
  • How do we balance our budget that accounts equitably between our programs funding and the institution’s reproductive needs?
  • How measurable is our action? Can we admit failures and draw from lessons learned?
  • What is our position vis-à-vis the Government and public institutions, public services?

Debating these questions may help us give meaning to the pillars of inclusion, transparency, and empowerment, but what about collaboration?

This is probably the most difficult objective to attain and seems to be also a condition to achieve systemic change. At the national level, the absence of coordination from the State is a major factor of waste, duplication, even of corruption. But that is not the only problem. In philanthropy, our existence depends on external funding from donors. We must constantly prove ourselves to be deserving, through competition, access to what has become a market. Each local institution establishes itself in its own field, a specific geographic area, with its own “beneficiaries” and see no interest in collaborating with other institutions or organizations who are often funded by the same donor.

It is true that some effort is being made towards more collaboration, but still a lot needs to be done, not only among us, but also with other stakeholders whose role is important: universities, private sector, local government, and whenever possible the public sector.

Philanthropy can help to network, to sustain social enterprises (impact investment), environmental initiatives, marketing and transforming of goods and services. But it should also be understood as a learning process that respects local knowledge and savoir-faire, grasps the complexities of the survival strategies, avoids the bureaucratic entanglements, and questions accepted notions such as the ideology of participation, fashionable gimmicks, victimization etc.

My limited experience has taught me how much working with local actors and their respective municipalities can be an effective model. Communities then learn about the mechanism of local governance and can mobilize for additional resources while being watchful of corruption and clientelism. Intersecting experiences are being conducted at Gros-Morne, Verrettes, Anse-à-Pitres, Cavaillon, Saint-Louis du Sud, Camperrin, Barradères, to name a few, without much publicity, engaging the communities in civic work, reforestation, value-added crops, animal farming, small enterprises. New techniques and technologies are introduced based on scientific experiments. They change behaviors while creating more cohesion among the participants.

Here we are talking about long term interventions that allow us to analyze and update existing data, select the priorities, and spend time on the ground to seize the complexity of each terrain while engaging with the communities. The country’s chaotic situation is certainly a handicap, but we must anticipate, weigh what is possible and take risks. There is nothing wrong with impact and measurement, but when that is the only focus and they are deployed at the expense of meaning and understanding, something fundamental is lost.

Systemic change implies time, innovation, sustainability, adaptation to changing conditions, thinking critically, proximity and scaling up. It also builds on mobilizing educated young people, to create a new generation of women and men that can project their future in the country because they foresee a positive horizon, rather than be tempted by Humanitarian parole or another mirage of the sort.

We have done a lot, but there is still so much more to be done. And as once said by a great man “Yes we can!” Wi nou kapab!

Thank you.


[1] Orozco, M. - Understanding the remittance economy in Haiti, Inter-American Dialogue, a paper commissioned by the World Bank, March 2006.

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