Ambassador Sison’s Remarks during the “Haiti Now” Event

Good morning, and thank you, Herby, for the kind introduction and for leading off this important conference.

It’s great to see all of you here from the Miami Foundation, The Boston Foundation,

  • FOKAL,
  • Inter-American Foundation,
  • Flora Family Foundation,
  • K. Kellogg Foundation, and so many more.


It truly is a pleasure to be here this morning with all of you – so many people dedicated to Haiti, and in particular, dedicated to empowering the Haitian people through a strategic perspective.

I was asked to talk about ‘Haiti’s Promise’ today, as well as to outline the priorities of the U.S. Embassy, our current activities,  and how we see opportunities for philanthropic collaboration.

Like many of you –I have a longstanding interest in Haiti – Port au Prince was my first assignment in the U.S. Foreign Service, and I served at our Embassy in Haiti from 1982-1984 as a young political and human rights officer. But those of us who “look in” from the outside –no matter how strong our connections to Haiti –will likely not be the ones to solve Haiti’s challenges. Rather, it will be the Haitian men and women who are facing the challenges day in and day out who will take their country forward.

How can we support and empower these Haitian men and women who wake up every day to provide for themselves and their families? The Haitians who decide they want a better life, a better future for themselves and for their children.

Ordinary Haitians who are ready, willing, and able to accomplish extraordinary things. These are the people who can and will bring about meaningful change. They are the promise of Haiti.

For all of us as partners, a key factor in supporting Haiti’s future is addressing the economic obstacles that create frustrated and disenfranchised youth in neighborhoods like Martissant, Bel Air, and Cite Soleil, where so many of Haiti’s youth are being recruited into gangs.

We need to offer that lift through other opportunities… meaningful alternatives through economic opportunity and through educational and vocational opportunities that lead to employment, and greater dignity.

We need to work to help alleviate poverty and make families and communities more prosperous and resilient.

The question is –how can we best support and empower these young people and their families?

I was happy to see on the conference agenda a session on learning from failure. This is an approach that we can all take to heart.

In fact, when our development projects have failed to achieve the results desired or expected, we’ve learned that it has often been when we charged ahead without building on local commitment.  In fact, one of the most significant lessons that we learned from our actions after the 2010 earthquake is that if we want to help, we need to promote strengthening of local communities, local production, and local markets.

And that’s why in 2016, after Hurricane Matthew, rather than rebuilding houses, we provided training through our USAID “Build Back Safer” project with local residents of Les Cayes, Coteaux, and other affected areas in Haiti’s south so that they were able to repair their damaged homes themselves, using improved building techniques with the assistance of trained and certified Haitian construction technicians and carpenters.

“Build Back Safer” is still benefitting some 6,000 households throughout the southern region; I was so impressed by this program when I visited several families involved in this innovative project.  I saw that local residents who had lost their homes received credit at local hardware stores in their towns.

When the project was providing materials, it provided vouchers to households for relatively small amounts that could be used to purchase materials locally. The intention was to facilitate local people, local businesses, and local markets rebuilding their own communities, rather than crowding them out through donations of competing foreign labor and materials.

Some of you may have heard of our USAID Local Enterprise and Value Chain Enhancement Project — (LEVE). LEVE targets micro-, small-, and medium-sized local Haitian enterprises in an effort to work with them to improve and enhance their capacity.

LEVE also works with technical and vocational schools to help them improve their course of study and job placement. In the Port au Prince area, LEVE is providing assistance to agribusiness, construction, and the apparel/textile industry.

By working with the private sector and workforce providers, LEVE encourages the development of more inclusive and productive value chains.

The “value chain approach” is an innovative economic tool that seeks to strengthen a local market system —from input suppliers to end market buyers —in order  to improve competitiveness and enhance economic growth. The goal for both “Build Back Safer” and “LEVE?” is Self Reliance.

I still remember vividly that one older woman in Coteaux was very proud to show her new roof that she had helped to rebuild herself, together with neighbors who we had trained in

our “Build Back Safer” project. We would not have generated this amount of pride and confidence if an outside project had simply rebuilt the house for her.

Our USAID Missions around the world, and in Haiti, are reorienting the way we do business in order to focus on supporting our partners on the journey to resilience and self-reliance.

Haiti participated in the Caribbean Resilience Partnership Ministerial with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on April 12 – bringing the Caribbean nations together to share lessons learned and to plan ahead.

We believe that two mutually-reinforcing factors determine a country’s self-reliance:

— commitment, or the degree to which a country’s laws, policies, actions, and formal and informal governance mechanisms support progress toward self-reliance; and– capacity, which refers to how far a country has come in its ability to plan, finance, and manage its own development agenda.

This approach to development – which prioritizes fostering stable, resilient, prosperous, inclusive, and self-reliant countries – is good for our partners around the world and

it is good for us in the United States as a close friend and  neighbor of Haiti. In Haiti, our many in-country partnerships also advance these goals.

The U.S. Mission in Haiti – that’s the Embassy including USAID, CDC, PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), and many other U.S. government agencies focus on encouraging greater self-reliance and greater resilience. We are partnering with Haiti to support a Haitian-led process to address the country’s political and economic challenges. Haiti’s economy is weak and facing the possibility of a contraction this year.

Food insecurity has increased,  especially in the rural areas that have been suffering from a drought.  Gang violence is affecting more and more people and communities, and more and more frustrated young people are being recruited into these gangs because they see no other hope for their future. The challenges are many.

So, in light of these challenges, how are we at the U.S. Mission encouraging greater self-reliance? First of all, we include Haiti in our “Caribbean 2020” multi-year U.S. government strategy to increase the security, prosperity, and well-being of the people of the Caribbean and the people of the United States.

On the economic front, we are working with the Haitian government to increase domestic resource mobilization, specifically through technical assistance for both customs collections and tax revenues.

We also provide targeted technical assistance to help improve the regulatory framework for the energy and electricity sectors. Through our Community-Driven Development (CDD) program, we are entering into partnerships with local municipalities for modest joint projects, to increase positive citizen participation and encourage more transparent governance.

At the individual level, in areas facing the greatest level of food insecurity, we work with and are the primary donor in Haiti to the World Food Program.

When it comes to food insecurity, when there is an immediate need, we  provide food to the most vulnerable families through our Food for Peace program. We then follow up with multiple weeks of short-term employment programs, so those same families can have one or more family members go to work to earn money, learn a skill on the job, and support a local improvement project.

We aim to address the immediate need while also helping the families and communities return to providing for themselves —that’s self-reliance!

By tapping into the innovation and experience of the private sector, the Haitian-American diaspora, and working with the full range of stakeholders,  I believe we will be able to move forward in the long-term in Haiti in achieving sustainable development outcomes and building self-reliance. We’ve seen that many locally established actors in Haiti, such as non-profits, educational institutions,  faith-based organizations, and the private sector — have engaged in efforts to build capacity, increase accountability, and provide services in Haiti for many decades.

All of these groups are allies in our development mission, and we are committed to mobilizing new and local partners, especially harnessing the energy and experience of the numerous faith-based partners who do so much good work in Haiti. By diversifying our partner-base to more local partners in both our USAID and PEPFAR programs, we will not only incorporate new ideas and approaches, but we also strengthen locally-led development and better serve the people of Haiti.

We also believe that we can enhance traditional U.S. grant-making by amplifying our efforts and outcomes through public-private partnerships. We have a number of great examples of public-private partnerships in Haiti.  For example, USAID,  the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the GE Foundation have such a partnership benefiting the Saint Boniface Haiti Foundation.

I visited St. Boniface a few months ago and was impressed by the financial, in-kind, and technical support for the Reparation Pou Amelyore Ekipman Medikal (REPARE) program, which has allowed the Saint Boniface Haiti Foundation to create a regional model for biomedical equipment management in Haiti. This project includes a training program for biomedical technicians at St. Boniface and the University Teaching Hospital of Mirebalais, which has produced a replicable model for expanding training opportunities to additional locations in Haiti and increasing the opportunities for high quality care in Haiti’s hospitals.

All of us at Embassy Port au Prince understand that private enterprise is the most-powerful force on earth for lifting people out of poverty, reinforcing communities, and building self-reliance. That’s why we also look forward to a close partnership with the new Development Finance Corporation (DFC) established by the BUILD Act passed by the U.S. Congress to mobilize financing for development.

David Bohigian, the Acting President and CEO of OPIC, was in Haiti two weeks ago with a high level delegation to meet with the government and private sector.

The focus was on promotion of U.S. investment as a catalyst for Haiti’s economic growth.

While in Haiti, Mr. Bohigian signed a $19.5 million dollar financing agreement to support the expansion of Habitation Jouissant Hotel in Cap Haitien, which will now come under the Marriott brand and will bolster economic activity in the north and jobs in Cap.

OPIC also engaged with local business leaders to discuss investment opportunities, highlight how OPIC supports private sector investment in emerging markets, and outline its priorities in the Caribbean including energy as well as agriculture and projects that empower women. This visit was a direct result of an historic March 22 Mar-A-Lago Summit between President Trump and five Caribbean leaders, including Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise.

With close integration of tools such as the Development Credit Authority (DCA) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s new equity authority and other reforms, the DFC will make private-sector engagement much more effective. On the political front, the U.S. Mission is working in tandem with the UN, OAS, and other international community partners to encourage and support inclusive good-faith political dialogue.But economic and political stability also depends on security. Many of you may be aware that we provide capacity building for the Haitian National Police, including its border police, counter narcotics brigade, and Coast Guard.

Keeping Haitians secure in their communities through civilian policing that respects human and civil rights is a key goal of our law enforcement development program, and these efforts also complement our USAID Justice Sector Support program. At a community and individual level, we seek to deepen support for shared values such as civic participation, rule of law, transparency, and entrepreneurship.

We do this through State Department and USAID’s democracy and governance programs, and through Public Diplomacy programs and exchanges.

We have projects to train economic journalists and grants to raise awareness on the importance of fiscal transparency for example.

USAID also has a program called CIVITAX that helps local municipalities effectively use tax revenues to provide services to local residents.

And of course, for a citizenry to truly improve its future and achieve its promise, there must be an investment in education at the earliest level.

One effort that we are particularly proud of is our partnership between USAID, the University of Notre Dame, and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to develop a curriculum to improve early childhood reading outcomes.  With a $6 million dollar grant from the Kellogg Foundation and the University of Notre Dame, plus a matching $6 million dollar grant from USAID, we have supported the development of a reading curriculum for grades 1 through 3 in French and Creole, starting with Creole.

With the curriculum having been used so far in grades 1 and 2 in hundreds of schools, an important part of the program is an assessment of its effectiveness through rigorous analysis using the Early Grade Reading Assessment, also known as the ‘EGRA’  (‘egg-rah) approach.

The results so far have been promising that this curriculum works.  We are nearly ready to hand over the grade 3 materials so that the reading curriculum and assessment can continue into the next year. As one of the goals  of this conference is for large-scale donors to ask ‘How can we help?’ — here is one possibility: Our early grade reading program will come to a closein a little over a year. We would like to keep going to reach additional grades.  After all, who in this room finished learning to read in grade 3?

USAID is in the process of working out the details for a follow-on partnership program with the Kellogg Foundation so we can keep going.

But we are not being exclusive about it. We could partner with more donors and with more schools.  As my USAID Mission Director told me, finding more money so we can contribute even more in matching funds is a problem the U.S. Mission would like to have!

So let’s think of ways to work together. Another successful – and even longer – partnership we’ve had is with FOKAL, the Fondasyon Konesans ak Libète.

FOKAL’s years of work in Haiti have helped establish 25 community libraries across the country that provide children and youth from vulnerable communities with access to information and new technology.

FOKAL’s flagship library in Port au Prince serves as a training site for the community library network and hosts cultural events, conferences, and workshops on investigative and photo journalism.

In the Embassy’s ten-year partnership with FOKAL, we’ve supported their efforts with over $225,000 dollars in grants. The U.S. Embassy also maintains an American Corner at FOKAL where library visitors can access computers and books, join an English conversation club, or participate in a wide variety of debates, film and cultural programs featuring American content.

FOKAL receives grants from various sources, so I’m glad to see FOKAL here today at this conference. Reading is a pleasure in its own right, but of course it is a foundational skill for most other activities, including entrepreneurship.

Just a few weeks ago, the Embassy hosted ‘TechCamp Soley’. This program paired more than 30 businesses, civil society organizations and media partners with over 60 young adult participants from the Cité Soleil, Martissant, and Bel Air neighborhoods.  These groups spent a long weekend together to establish professional networks, to mentor, and to provide the knowledge and tools needed to strengthen businesses and social enterprises.

The Embassy has held and supported various workshops, seminars, and leadership programs for budding entrepreneurs.

We’ve repeatedly heard from participants that providing a venue for a structured approach to mentorship and networking is one of the best resources we can provide, as business mentorship remains in a nascent stage in Haiti. After reading programs and early stage entrepreneurship, what’s next?  As any successful businessperson knows — and there are plenty of successful people in this room – expanding beyond the small-scale startup stage requires access to capital.

Equally as important as access is the know-how to prepare your business for that next stage. Small businesses need guidance to qualify for credit and attract investors, as well as knowing how to effectively use that capital for long-term growth.

It is with this need in mind that our USAID team just launched the ‘Haiti INVEST’ platform, which is a follow on to the success of the LEVE program I mentioned earlier. Our new Haiti INVEST project will facilitate the mobilization of financing for investment in high potential sectors in Haiti, including under-financed sectors such as agriculture.

Haiti INVEST will take a new, results-oriented approach to catalyze financing through a pay-for-performance compensation model. USAID will pay the fees to business advisory service providers, transaction advisors, and intermediaries who help qualified businesses access finance.

This will promote investment in small and medium enterprisesfrom both local and overseas investors. It will also bring long-term equity financingto Haiti. Simultaneously, this approach will help professionalize the business advisory sector by encouraging recognized norms and standards. But let me go back a moment – perhaps you noticed that I said this program will promote investment from overseas investors.

Yes, here is another opportunity for your strategic perspective — specifically, your strategic funding capacity. The advisors and intermediaries engaged as part of the Haiti INVEST platform will provide training and business coaching over many months to Haitian SMEs so that these established businesses are ready to seek and utilize equity investment and/or business loans.

These advisors will help organize roadshows to introduce these investment opportunities to sources of capital.

And by ‘sources of capital’ – yes, I mean all of you in this room.Through Haiti INVEST, USAID will finance the transaction advisors and intermediaries based on their performance.

So all of your investment is going straight to the small and medium enterprises, not to the service providers.

And ideally, some of these transaction advisors will be diaspora transaction advisors who can bridge SMEs in Haiti with overseas and diaspora investors who are looking to invest in Haiti. Your next question is, I’m sure, how do I get in touch with the Haiti INVEST advisors and intermediaries.

Trust me, we are going to make this easy for you.

Gary Juste, our USAID Mission Director and Jean-Marc Cuvilly, our lead on the Haiti Invest Project, are here with us this morning – please stand up for a moment, Jean Marc and Gary so folks can see where you are!

I hope all of you have the opportunity to speak with Gary and Jean Marc on the margins of the conference, because our Haiti Invest project is all about unlocking the power of private capital to drive inclusive growth in Haiti.

Finally, a word on gender…I think we can all agree that no country can meaningfully progress in its journey to self-reliance if inequalities between men and women impede half the population from realizing their full potential.

The development dividends of greater participation by women in the economy are clear, and our experience shows that investing in women and girls accelerates gains across the full development spectrum, including in promoting health and education.

That’s why all of our programs, from police development to entrepreneurial skill-building to political participation to development projects and educational exchanges include Haitian women! In sum, we all need to strive to create opportunities for families, men and women, and youth to pull themselves out of poverty and to build strong communities, where the kind of violence and insecurity we see today cannot continue to gain a foot-hold.

I believe there is a role for all of us to support Haiti fulfil its economic potential and to support a more stable and secure neighbor.

I hope this outline of the Embassy’s priorities for partnership in Haiti has highlighted our goal of supporting Haiti’s journey to self-reliance.

As we continue our partnership and targeted assistance, we are also focused on empowering the Haitian people to take the next steps to bring about meaningful change in their own lives – for their families, for their business, for their communities, and ultimately for their country.

We truly believe in the promise of Haiti’s everyday citizens, as I know all of you do. I’m looking forward to hearing your ideas and exchanging views with you this morning


Thank you.