July 28, 2014
Doing ‘Tet Anba’ Philanthropy in Haiti – Three Lessons Learned

 

From July 14, 2014

Haiti-Trip-Group-Photo

Some members of the Haiti Fund trip on Haiti Trip 2014

These remarks, edited for this post, were offered to set the context for a philanthropy trip in Haiti hosted by the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation on July 14, 2014. The Haiti Fund concentrates on funding grassroots Haitian-led organizations in Haiti and Greater Boston. The Haiti Fund will close as planned in February 2015, hopefully having inspired the next generation of Haitian philanthropists and Haiti Funders.

Welcome to Haiti! Welcome to the place where you can fall “upside down” in love with the Haitian people and culture. It is also the place where everything you knew before can get turned on its head! The equivalent phrase in Haitian Creole is “Tet Anba,” literally “head below,” or “upside down head.”

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Dr. Georges Dubuche, Director General of Public Health and Population for Haiti, at dinner with Karen.

Over the last five years my husband Jim and I have developed “upside down heads and hearts” for Haiti. Before the earthquake struck, we knew very, very little about this country, except for what we had read in the life-changing book Mountains Beyond Mountains, about the founding of Partners in Health in Haiti. We made one small grant after four storms ravaged Haiti in 2008. Then in 2009 Jim was invited to travel to Haiti to meet Dr. Paul Farmer — the protagonist of Mountains Beyond Mountains — an extraordinary privilege.

karen and joel

Karen with Joel Theodat, Haitian Creole instructor, translator, mentor and friend on the island of Ile a Vache.

Jim was invited to consider how to create more jobs for Haitians. One visit led to three and by the end of that year Jim had been given a new job himself! He volunteered to oversee the construction of a new 100-bed community hospital in the middle of rice paddies in rural Haiti. It was a path he never could have imagined. A retired general contractor, Jim had never built anything in the developing world! Haiti would turn all Jim knew about construction upside down, “Tet Anba.”

Just a few months later, on January 12, 2010 Jim and David Walton from Partners in Health were in Boston reviewing blueprints for the hospital. Four days later… they were in Haiti clambering to save lives in hospital tents, where Jim remained (except for two brief trips home) for most of the next two months. His whole life, our family’s life, went completely “Tet Anba.”

jim paul clinton PIH

Jim Ansara going over blueprints for Mirebalais Hospital with Dr. Paul Farmer, David Walton and President Clinton.

40 hours after the earthquake, on a sleep-deprived impulse, we launched the Haiti Fund in partnership with The Boston Foundation, where we already had a donor advised fund. We had seen on the news the intense suffering not only on the island, but in Boston, which we learned, for the first time, had the third largest Haitian community in the US.

The Haiti Fund turned the Boston Foundation completely “Tet Anba.” It had never had an international initiative before. Every employee was engaged at full-tilt to raise funds to match a million dollar challenge grant in a month.

When we launched the Haiti Fund we had only this simple framework:

  • 1/4 of the money would be spent immediately to save lives in Haiti and support Haitians in Boston reeling from the earthquake.
  • 3/4 would be spent on long-term reconstruction and defending human rights in Haiti.
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The iconic statue of Neg Mawon on the Champs de Mars in central Port au Prince four and a half years after the Haitian earthquake. He symbolized a Black marooned or runaway slave, blowing a conch shell to call other slaves to fight for their freedom from French masters.

the citadelle haiti

Haiti Fund Director Pierre Noel exploring the incomparable Citadelle, the early 19th century fortress built by newly independent Haitians to protect the nation from French invaders.

The only problem was: I didn’t know a single Haitian. I didn’t know that Haiti was the first free black nation. I didn’t know most Haitians spoke Creole. I did know that Haiti had suffered under brutal dictators, had had a leftist Priest-President, and I had suspected that the US had meddled in Haiti to protect its business interests. Beyond that, I had everything to learn about Haiti.

To compensate for my ignorance, I thought I knew a few things about international philanthropy — but Haiti turned those things “Tet Anba,” too.

We had been making mainly international grants for about ten years. I had taken a course on strategic philanthropy two years earlier. I knew how to identify a problem and develop a theory of change to solve it. I knew how to review a proposal and deploy money to make things happen. But I sure didn’t know much about how to choose in an instant the best NGO’s to save lives during a disaster or how to change centuries of deep-rooted oppression in Haiti.

The lessons I have learned from my wise Haitian American colleagues and from passionate, life-long Haiti activists have turned my preconceived notions about international philanthropy, “Tet Anba.” I will share with you just three of many lessons.

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Chavannes Casseus of peasant organization MP3K in Les Cayes.

1. Focus on partners, not plans.

In “strategic philanthropy,” we (generally outsiders) articulate a problem as we see it. We create an “if-then” equation to solve it: “If we target money here, change will happen there.” We find “thought leaders” and practitioners with solutions on our pre-charted path and we fund them. If we meet our shared goals, we all feel really good about ourselves.

In the “Tet Anba Philanthropy” I have come to embrace, we funders don’t have all the answers. We seek partners who have lived the problems, and try to look at life through their lenses. We let ourselves fall in love with a country first, before we analyze it or try to fix it. In “Tet Anba Philanthropy,” we practice subjectivity, rather than false objectivity, acknowledging that money is power and is never neutral. “Tet Anba Philanthropy” takes sides to empower rather than serve the people.

Pierre Noel Grain Mill

Pierre Noel, Haiti Fund Director, describing grain mill for grinding animal feed funded by the Haiti Fund at OPDAEH peasant organization.

For several weeks after the earthquake we held public events to which hundreds of Haitians flooded. They kept saying that no one was asking them for their help or their opinions – even though Haiti was their homeland and they often supported family there. So we decided we would ask Haitians in Boston to lead… And that’s when the learning really started.

We established a 30+ member Advisory Council of Haitians and friends of Haiti to chart the principles and priorities of the fund. It has been chaired by a dynamic Haitian American public servant from Boston, Marie St. Fleur, the first to be elected to public office in the US.

Ten weeks after the earthquake we co-funded a conference in Boston (with the Barr Foundation and University of Massachusetts) for 120 Haitian and Haitian American civil society leaders. They articulated their principles for rebuilding Haiti, ones the Haiti Fund has closely followed. These were pronounced by our Haiti Fund chair on the floor of the UN at the March 31, 2010 International Donor Conference for Haiti presided over by Bill Clinton.

The bottom line: we didn’t start with a plan for Haiti’s reconstruction. We didn’t start with certain NGO’s, sectors or geographies. We just created a space for Haitians to examine their own realities and work together to set their own collective agenda. This was revolutionary for a people for whom sovereignty — independent decision making, unobstructed by foreign powers — has always been so elusive. Simply being heard in Haiti, can be a “Tet Anba” experience.

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Heureuse, one of twelve women entrepreneurs learning the candle making trade with Prosperity Catalyst in Cap Haitien.

2. The second “Tet Anba” lesson is closely related to the first: Focus on empowerment, not impact.

So much of the discourse in philanthropy today is about how to ensure the broadest and most measurable impact with our limited dollars. I find “impact” to be an aggressive term. It is about what “we” do to “someone or something” else. It is about the size of the indelible crater we leave after we funders have moved on.

Industrial Rev II

Industrial Revolution II. A new social enterprise garment factory in Port Au Prince, which will return 50% of all net profits to projects benefitting the community.

After my Haiti Fund years, I care far less about measurable impact and much more about signs of empowerment. Have our grants helped Haitians find their own voices? Have we enabled and enobled grassroots leaders — too long dismissed by elites, politicians and foreign interests — to articulate their own visions and celebrate their own collective assets? Have we held these leaders and their organizations to the highest standards of ethics, professionalism, and practice — and given them the tools, training and trust needed to achieve their greatest aspirations for themselves and their communities?

Nourimamba Plant

Women sorting peanuts grown by local farmers for use in Nourimamba, — a medicinal, nutritionally fortified peanut butter — produced by Zanmi Lasante at a plant in Mirebalais built by Abbott Labs, Partners in Health, and Technoserve.

At the Haiti Fund we could probably tell you about the number of irrigation trenches dug, grain mills built or formerly unschooled children enrolled with our funds. But that’s not the real impact we’ve made. The real impact is evidenced by whether we have left Haitian organizations prouder and more powerful to work things out together — to improve their communities and society — over the very, very long haul – long after we funders have gone home and stopped measuring.

Dancers Prodev’s Ecole Nouvelle Zoranje_c

A dance instructor and dance student at Prodev’s Ecole Nouvelle Zoranje in Renaissance Village, Zoranje, Cite Soleil. ProDev’s four private/public schools integrate sports, the arts, and technology with the Haitian national curriculum.


3. The third “Tet Anba” lesson is this: Focus on depth, not breadth.

I have learned to peel off the layers of the onion in a local context instead of trying to go quickly to scale – because poverty is undeniably multi-layered. It’s not just about lack of income, lack of infrastructure, lack of education, lack of health care, or lack of any particular resource. Poverty may also be perpetuated by entrenched social norms, by structural and internalized oppression, by lack of a political voice or right to hold one’s government accountable. I have seen that all of these layers must be addressed for an individual or a community to move forward. Our goal is not the number of lives touched or specific behaviors changed, but the number of communities transformed – and that requires digging deep into the spiritual, intellectual, social, economic, and physical ecosystems which shape individuals.

Pierre Franthz Sainfort, President of MP3K_c

Pierre Franthz Sainfort, President of MP3K, in Camp Perrin, describing the tree nursery created by members of their peasant organization, to reforest their region.

When we first established the Haiti Fund I envisioned rebuilding broken urban infrastructure, like schools and hospitals, homes and roads. Based on the deep wisdom of our Advisory Council and incomparable staff, we chose instead to repair a crippled agrarian economy; to help Haitian farmers organize to feed themselves and their country; to block competitive, cheap foreign food imports; and to hold USAID accountable. We chose to help the most oppressed Haitian children – 200,000 indentured servants – go to fast -track primary schools to have a shot at dignity and independent futures. We chose to train teachers to view teaching as a profession rather than just food on the table. We chose to support painstakingly long dialogues, neighborhood by neighborhood, to change social norms against child abuse, domestic violence and corporal punishment in schools. We chose to invest in rebuilding social trust among people who for centuries have been pitted against each other.

young artists

Proud young artists display their first paintings. Elevate Destinations organized a volunteer team to conduct an art and leadership camp in coordination with EDEM Foundation on Ile a Vache.

Many times we have chosen to fund one-off projects and small enterprises, rather than systemic solutions, because Haiti at this time is so fractured. It has a national curriculum, but not a national education system; it has a national teaching hospital, but not an integrated national health care system; it has a national Parliament, but no municipal elections. So, while it would in some ways be ideal to propel change on a large scale, that is not so realistic in Haiti. In the absence of ample opportunities for large-scale systems change, I have learned that changing realities for one child, one family, one school, one commune or one group of 100 women, is deeply gratifying. Each time we do so, we announce that a new Haiti is possible, if we practice “Tet Anba Philanthropy.”

Careline durocher waiting at mirebalais hospital

Carline Durocher, Haiti Fund Advisor, in waiting room of the University Hospital of Mirebalais operated by Zanmi Lasante/Partners in Health and the Haitian Ministry of Health. The benches are pews donated by St. Cecilia’s Parish in Boston.

When you turn the power dynamics in philanthropy upside down, when your “head is underneath,” you can see the day to day needs and dreams of grassroots Haitians all the more clearly.

The Haiti Fund would not be a reality without the skillful leadership of Boston Foundation Vice President Kate Guedj; or without the extraordinary staff in Pierre Noel, Daniel Moss, Ferry Cadet, Laura McConaughy, and Vanessa Wu; or without the faithful service of many members of the Haiti Fund Advisory Council in reviewing proposals, setting strategy, and advocating on behalf of the people of Haiti.

 

More Photos from the Trip…

DeeDee Franciois, operations manager for Prosperity Catalyst in Cap Haitien, displaying a hand-carved Haitian river rock candle holder.

DeeDee Franciois, operations manager for Prosperity Catalyst in Cap Haitien, displaying a hand-carved Haitian river rock candle holder.

Huereuse and Judeline - entrepreneurs for Prosperity Catalyst in Cap Haitien, proudly displaying handmade candles ready for market.

Huereuse and Judeline – entrepreneurs for Prosperity Catalyst in Cap Haitien, proudly displaying handmade candles ready for market.

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Students testing soil at the Fritz Lafontant vocational school in Mirebalais operated by Zanmi Lasante/Partners in Health.

Jean Appolon Expressions from Boston offers “Dance Haiti!”,  free summer classes in Haitian folkloric dance, at the Hotel Oloffson in Port au Prince.

Jean Appolon Expressions from Boston offers “Dance Haiti!”, free summer classes in Haitian folkloric dance, at the Hotel Oloffson in Port au Prince.

Julio Doris and other Leaders of OPDAEH in Les Cayes, displaying eggs from a poultry project funded by the Haiti Fund.  Haiti currently imports 98% of its eggs from the Dominican Republic.

Julio Doris and other Leaders of OPDAEH in Les Cayes, displaying eggs from a poultry project funded by the Haiti Fund. Haiti currently imports 98% of its eggs from the Dominican Republic.

Louino Robillard (“Robi”) of Future Generations, an international peace building program that supports Sakala, a youth community center and urban garden in Cite Soleil.  The tire garden and plant nursery created by local residents are the largest garden of any kind in Port au Prince.

Louino Robillard (“Robi”) of Future Generations, an international peace building program that supports Sakala, a youth community center and urban garden in Cite Soleil. The tire garden and plant nursery created by local residents are the largest garden of any kind in Port au Prince.

A public composting toilet embedded by social enterprise SOIL in Shadda, a dense, poor community in Cap Haitien.  SOIL employees collect waste weekly, transport it to a central facility, where it is transformed and sold as  compost for agricultural use.

A public composting toilet embedded by social enterprise SOIL in Shadda, a dense, poor community in Cap Haitien. SOIL employees collect waste weekly, transport it to a central facility, where it is transformed and sold as compost for agricultural use.

Karen, Haiti Fund Director Pierre Noel and the leaders of FAVILEK, a women’s organization defending women and raising consciousness through street theater about gender based violence in Haiti.

Karen, Haiti Fund Director Pierre Noel and the leaders of FAVILEK, a women’s organization defending women and raising consciousness through street theater about gender based violence in Haiti.

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Haiti Fund Coordinator Ferry Cadet and Advisor Carline Durocher, Esq., admiring the view from atop the Citadelle.

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Our group’s public transportation to Ile a Vache.