As the former President of the University of Miami, I was proud to help strengthen UM’s decades-long relationship with our neighbors in Haiti. Both before and after the devastating 2010 earthquake, UM faculty, staff, and students worked, often with Project Medishare and alongside Haitian partners, to build the kinds of systems and infrastructure that promote long-term growth and prosperity. This work was the UM community at its best.
In my new role as president of the Clinton Foundation, I’m proud to bring this UM legacy to the foundation. This week, Chelsea Clinton and I will travel to Haiti to see how the foundation’s programs and partners are empowering girls, women, and families through economic development and entrepreneurship efforts. At our side will be a group of well-respected advocates, philanthropists, business leaders, and people who share a commitment in Haiti’s future.
Haiti’s economy has had four consecutive years of positive GDP growth and is one of the fastest growing economies in the region. Apparel and agricultural exports are increasing, and tourism continues to increase. Several of the most important health indicators, like maternal and child mortality, are improving. We should be encouraged by this progress. We should shout it from the mountaintops so that the world knows the promise of Haiti is ready to be fulfilled, and that they can be part of it.
But today, far too much of the discourse around Haiti has a sense of defeatism; that it is, and always will be, a poverty-stricken nation — another lost cause. This could not be further from the truth. We know that together with partners in the international community, the Haitian people are making important progress — progress that too often goes ignored or unreported.
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And it is for that reason that the Clinton Foundation has been an active partner in Haiti’s future since 2009. Informed by President Clinton’s 40 years of dedication and his belief in the unlocked potential of Haiti, our projects in Haiti are scalable and sustainable — true to the unique and innovative model of the Foundation overall.
Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. To do that, we are supporting the entrepreneurs, women business owners and smallholder farmers who are lifting the communities around them. We are building partnerships to improve the quality of and access to healthcare and education. And, we are promoting long-term investments in key areas like energy, tourism, agriculture and manufacturing. By working together with grassroots organizations, small farming cooperatives, and major international companies and investors, we’re helping to bring these groups together in Haiti for the first time.
We use a number of different approaches to make progress on solvable challenges. For example, Haiti’s peanut processors want to keep up with the rising demand for peanuts, but the fragmented base of smallholder growers makes it expensive and impractical to source domestically. We found a simple solution to the problem. We help train the farmers and provide quality supplies, then purchase their peanuts for a favorable, fixed price. We then aggregate the harvests and sell them to the processors, and reinvest the profits back into the enterprise. We’re in our second year of operations and are currently working with 1,500 farmers in the Central Plateau and North regions.
Our partnership with Papillon Enterprise helps to employ 300 people producing a diverse portfolio of artisan products, and this woman owned business is one of the first in Haiti to provide on-site daycare as well as health benefits to its employees. Another partnership with Caribbean Craft helps Haitian artisans and businesses have a chance to reach a global market working with international retailers like West Elm and TOMS Shoes. By looking at the full supply chain, our goal is to help empower and lift up smallholder farmers, small business owners, budding entrepreneurs and the families and communities they support. Our work is helping to provide meaningful opportunities for a productive life and a sustainable future.
I know there is still much more to be done to help Haiti achieve the bright future it has always deserved, and it won’t be easy. But the progress there is real. The opportunities for girls and women are growing. And, with continued partnership and innovation, we can help keep it moving in the right direction.
Donna Shalala is President of the Clinton Foundation and former president of the University of Miami.