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How Can HBS Help in Haiti?

On January 12th, 2010 a disastrous earthquake struck Haiti just 15 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince. The consequences were grave: over 220,000 people died, more than 300,000 people were injured, and much of the capital city was left in ruin.

The world responded with promises of support as Haiti rebuilt and recovered from the tragedy. Everyone from doctors to celebrities rushed to get food, water, and medical care to the ailing country, and donors from around the world pledged more than $10 billion dollars in aid.

Yet, despite the outpouring of support, the country responded slowly to the disaster. Haiti remained crippled by poor physical infrastructure, enormous losses of human capital, and unclear delegation of authority. Many blamed the slow recovery on the government while others pointed fingers at donors whose resources had failed to materialize.

Today, eight months later, one thing is clear: there remains much work to be done. Millions of people are still without shelter. In July, reportedly only 28,000 of the 1.5 million Haitians displaced by the earthquake had moved into new homes. Unemployment is estimated at over 70%. Thousands of buildings that once housed schools, businesses, hospitals, and other entities still need to be rebuilt.

Michael Louis (OB), spent his summer in Haiti working for Root Capital. He notes, “Eight months after the earthquake, the situation in Haiti remains challenging. Despite the robust international response and the large presence of NGOs, progress has been painfully slow. . .The majority of the 1.5 million displaced by the earthquake continue to live in deplorable conditions under tarps and tents. As I travelled to work every morning, I walked by Champ-de-Mars, a once beautiful square with statues of the nation’s heroes that is now a camp occupied by over 50,000 people. The social unrest and insecurity that can stem from these poor living conditions is a major cause for concern, especially in an election year. My father visited during my last week in Haiti and his inability to recognize his old neighborhood (last time he was in Haiti was in 2003) was a sobering reminder of how much Port-au-Prince has changed for the worse.”

Dominique Baillet (OI), also spent part of her summer in Haiti working with Dalberg, an international development consulting firm. She remarks, “In many ways, it can seem like little has improved since the quake. However, donors, NGOs, and other actors on the ground are heavily committed and investing in coordination efforts to scale impact. As emergency needs have largely been addressed, the focus is shifting toward developing long-term strategies to “build back better” (a phrase often used and coined by President Clinton). I’d like to believe that the foundations are being set and momentum is gaining for sustainable, permanent housing solutions and economic development. The reality is, this takes time”

How can HBS help?
After hearing reports of the disaster in Haiti last year many student were interested to find out how they could help. Led by the SA, students gathered to discuss different ways to make an impact on the situation. Andrea Ellwood (OC), Brett Gibson (OC), and Kathleen Hebert (OI) came up with the idea of leading a HBS student trip to Haiti.

The thought was to a get a group of students together to work with partner organizations in Haiti and offer their entrepreneurial and business skills to assist in the disaster recovery efforts on-the-ground. Students would be able to make an impact in Haiti while also experiencing and learning about leadership in a disaster recovery zone.

After discussing the idea with other students, faculty, and administrators it was clear there was a real opportunity. Over the course of the spring and summer Andrea, Brett, and Kat developed a vision and value proposition, identified a set of target organizations to work with, and proposed the initiative to leaders of the various organizations. They were met with strong support from the administration, several excited and well-respected non-governmental partner organizations, and the opportunity to lead an entirely student-organized IXP to Haiti.

Kelly Diamond, Associate Director of MBA Student and Academic Services, notes, “We in MBA are committed to supporting student-led initiatives that offer students the opportunity to engage in field-based learning and apply leading ideas in managerial practice.”

This January, exactly one-year after the earthquake, HBS will send a group of students to Haiti as part of the IXP program to assist, reflect, and learn from the disaster recovery efforts that are taking place in the country. Students will get the opportunity to contribute their entrepreneurial skills, experience the difficulties of the environment, and take part as the country remembers the tragedy on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake.

Perhaps they will also start to find answers to the broader questions begged by natural disasters: What should leadership in a post-disaster recovery zone look like? What is the role of business people? And, how can the entrepreneurial spirit be harnessed to fuel growth and recovery?

For more information on the Disaster Recovery IXP in Haiti please visit //mba.hbs.edu/JnuaryTerm or visit the January term open house on September 23rd. An info-session will also be held on September 20th from 5-6pm in Aldrich 112.

September 13, 2010
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