Francisco Mejia

Rebuilding Haiti: A Call to the Private Sector

Editor’s Note: The emergency relief effort in Haiti is still very much underway, but the conversation on the role of business in rebuilding has already begun. World Bank President Robert Zoellick has urged donor nations to be ready for the long haul, which help rebuild basic infrastructure. The Wall Street Journal has covered multinationals’ efforts to locate employees and consider their future operations. We re-post here Francisco Mejia’s call to action for the private sector from the Majority Markets blog, urging business to go further. The conversation on the role for the private sector has already started at Business Fights Poverty, and fast-moving ventures like SamaSource and Crowdflower are already looking at re-orienting their work towards Haiti to create jobs. The task will be even more complex than even nimble, smart ventures typically take on but the need is enormous. We hope NextBillion can help spur this conversation forward – please post your ideas for how the private sector can organize and act be part of rebuilding in Haiti so that the future can be more prosperous and sustainable than before the earthquake.

In a recent opinion article in the Washington Post , Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs proposed creating a multi-billion dollar “Haiti Recovery Fund,” using contributions from the international community, to support the reconstruction of Haiti.

Professor Sachs is correct that addressing the post-earthquake devastation in Haiti will be a multi-billion-dollar project, and that it needs a very sophisticated level of coordination. Nevertheless, the reconstruction effort should be driven by a combination of international funding to subsidize basic needs, and market based solutions that address the daunting Haitian challenges ahead and reflect a high level of participation and commitment from the private sector. In the long run, private sector investment will indispensable in reaching and sustaining the levels of development that have eluded Haiti and that its people deserve.

Reading Sachs’ piece, I thought about an old professor of mine, Lauchlin Currie, a Canadian-born economist who worked in Colombia’s National Planning Department in the 1970s. He was one of the architects of the Pastrana administration’s “Four Strategies” plan, which included a very successful emphasis on using the housing sector to stimulate the economy and lead economic development.

From the bleak photos out of Port-au-Prince over the past week, it’s clear that once international relief organizations have a chance to address immediate needs of medical care, clean water and food, construction will be priority number one. Over a million Haitians are now homeless, and government agencies, schools, hospitals and other centers of civic life were destroyed. As Lauchlin Currie’s strategy showed, focusing on the construction and housing sector can be highly effective in creating jobs, revitalizing financial services such as mortgage providers, establishing domestic and international supply chains and, of course, improving quality of life as people move into safe new homes.

In recent years we’ve seen remarkable progress in a formerly failed state, Rwanda, which can be credited in large part to development of its private sector and an understanding that a nation’s long term well-being depends on dignity and self-reliance – factors that, in the words of Michael Fairbanks, a leading strategic thinker on international development, can’t be bought with “checkbook development.” The World Bank’s annual “Doing Business” report singled out Rwanda as one of the world’s fastest-reforming nations. It would be a giant step forward if Haiti were to follow Rwanda’s example and take this disaster as an opportunity to create a private sector that pulls the country out of 200 years of solitude.

Last October, former U.S. president Bill Clinton led a mission of international investors to Haiti in an effort to interest them in business development there. Haiti will need all the help they can provide (and then some), but hopefully, in the years ahead, we will find that private sector solutions for poverty – along with necessary coordination with the public sector – will make Haiti stronger than ever before