How the Haitian government can organize NGOs to help Haiti

Guest contributor and diaspora member Deborah D. David suggests a publicly-accessible database to help wrangle NGOs.

The NGO-led development model in Haiti is not ideal, especially if Haiti is to ever thrive on its own. Former President Bill Clinton recognized as much at last year’s Haitian Diaspora Unity Congress in Miami, when he revealed that Haiti had the most NGOs per capita after India—the second most populous country on earth.  Haiti had truly earned the nickname, “Republic of NGOs.”

Four days after the earthquake, Save the Children distributes food, water and supplies at Hospital Espoire in Port-au-Prince (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Clinton recognized then that while the thousands of non-governmental organizations in Haiti provide necessary social services, they must better coordinate with each other for greater impact.  More importantly, they must ultimately cede responsibility for providing social services to their rightful owner: the Haitian government.

For example, for 30 years now, the US-based Haitian Education Foundation has funded and operated schools in the mountainous regions of Haiti, outside the national education system. It does so even though the Government of Haiti (GOH) commits in the 1987 constitution to provide free education from primary school through the university level.

The proper role for an NGO like HEF, if the government upheld its commitment, would be to enhance a component of children’s education, like supporting a music program. Or, it could choose a lower-income area and provide free school supplies. Instead the GOH outsources its constitutional responsibility to an NGO that is not accountable to the Haitian people.  This situation is one of far too many examples where the GOH depends on NGOs to provide social services.

Often, people interested in Haiti´s development say that NGOs have been there for a long time and nothing has improved. The most popular question since the January 12th earthquake is “What are the NGOs doing with all the money?” Note that there is a difference between the money that the international community pledged to the GOH and the funds that NGOs receive for their programs. People often think they are one and the same and assume that if the GOH says it has yet to see funds then the NGOs must have them.

In actuality, NGOs seek funding from a variety of sources, which include but are not limited to, philanthropists, government agencies, and foundations. These funds almost always come attached to a list of requirements and restrictions causing NGOs to be most accountable to their funders, as opposed to the people they serve.

One early critique of NGOs in India found that their activities increasingly aligned with donors’ needs.

In absence of any transparent mechanism to scrutinize their accountability to the beneficiaries [NGOs] become immune to any public criticism.  Instead of being people-centric, most of the NGOs are donor-centric.[itals mine]

This is exactly what has happened in Haiti and why NGOs cannot be in charge of the reconstruction.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive (left) meets MINUSTAH leadership after quake (UN Photo/Marco Dormino)

In order to go from Republic of NGOs back to the Republic of Haiti, the GOH needs to resume its role as the primary provider of social services to its citizens and call for the support and collaboration of NGOs.  To get a handle on their activities, the GOH must create and maintain a database that is accessible to the public. While there are existing efforts, they are not helpful to the general public.

The database needs to include the following: projects by area of focus, donor list for each project, project budget and duration. Most of all, the database needs to be user-friendly. That means if I search for “potable water,” I will get a list that looks like this:

This type of database will not only serve as a resource to Haitians, it will empower those interested in the development of Haiti, and reduce duplication of efforts and waste.

For instance, before a Haitian in the diaspora goes about opening an orphanage, this database will tell him/her that there are already 10 with a combined operating budget of $5 million in the chosen location. At that point, he/she can choose to collaborate with an existing orphanage, provide a service that is lacking or move forward with opening his/her own. Bottom line, everyone will be equipped with much more knowledge as it relates to the development of Haiti.

A comprehensive NGO database, together with a well-implemented reconstruction plan should eliminate any confusion as to who has the leading role in Haiti’s reconstruction.

Deborah D. David is a Haitian-American living in Caracas, Venezuela with her husband and two children. She holds a master’s of science in administration from the University of West Florida and currently blogs at Balanced Melting Pot about raising her children as second generation immigrants.

6 Responses to “How the Haitian government can organize NGOs to help Haiti”

  1. That’s great that there are already people/agencies working to improve the existing databases. The only other obstacle I could think of is how to make it mandatory for the NGO’s to participate. With a voluntary system, I imagine those who are operating illegally will not want to provide the necessary information.

  2. Good thinking. There’s a project like this in the works that I think has a solid chance of succeeding. I’ve been asked not to talk about it too widely yet, but I want to get the word out about it as soon as I can…

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