Sometimes the Haitian diaspora gets so caught up in old school methods of helping Haiti (remittances, barrel shipping, Haitian politics), it forgets to read the tea leaves of US foreign policy–and act before policy gets made or shot down. Key word: before. Reform is all about timing; miss the boat one year, the opportunity won’t come around again for another 20 years.
Making the rounds this week is an Associated Press report that Haitian firms get $1.60 of every $100 of U.S. contracts paid out since January 12th to rebuild Haiti–or, less than 2 percent of $267 million. It is possible to tip that ratio in favor of local business owners (and the U.S. firms who sub-contract to them), but the Haitian diaspora has to act now.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the backing of the Obama administration is currently trying to implement the most extensive reform agenda in its 50-year history. The proposed overhaul, at least a year in the making, is a huge deal within the aid industry (seriously) and promises to change who gets money, why and how. Billions of people in developing countries all over the world will be affected. And since Haiti basically outsources social services to US NGOs operating through USAID contracts, the US arm of the diaspora has a real opportunity to impact policy–while it’s still being negotiated.
What’s the potential payoff? One element of these proposed reforms includes procurement, which the AP article illustrates, hurts Haitian and likely, diaspora businesses, too. As analyst Mead Over (yes, that’s a first and last name) at the well-respected Center for Global Development explains, USAID is trying to revise its procurement procedure:
This is radical stuff. The proposed reforms promise to dramatically improve the development impact of U.S. foreign assistance, both by building local capacity and by squeezing more development outputs and outcomes out of each U.S. foreign assistance dollar.
That’s nerd-speak for, USAID wants to put money directly into the hands of local businesses and train and employ more local people. If there’s one sure way to end aid dependency it’s to stimulate the local economy. Sounds good, right? Right. But it sounds like a practical joke, too. Consider: key opposition to these reforms will come from US contractors (i.e., NGOs and companies operating in Haiti) keen to keep the money flowing, uninterrupted, in their direction. And while I presume that Republicans will favor a reform package that aims to streamline US foreign assistance, I still have a lot of reading up to do before I can comfortably predict what to expect from either party.
But while this policy battle’s going down in Washington, DC, where’s the voice of the Haitian diaspora? Congressmen from Massachusetts, New York and Florida should be hearing from their Haitian-American constituents all the time. The Congressional Black Caucus should be hearing from the diaspora as should every member of the House and Senate foreign relations committees. These reforms stand to impact Haitians directly, after all.
Hit me up in comments if you’re aware of Haitian-American groups or Haiti policy groups who’ve been following and advocating USAID reforms. Also hit me up if you want me to find out more about what’s going on and how you/your group can add their voice to the mix.