Innovators, and Friends.
It is great to be with you here at the Haiti Tech Summit this morning.
I’m Michele Sison, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. I’m a career diplomat. I’ve been with the State Department for 36 years, right behind Danielle there. 36 years ago I started my first foreign service career in Haiti. This was my first diplomatic posting as a young foreign service officer, and Haiti has stayed with me ever since that first experience at 23 years old. I lived here from 1982-1984 and Haiti got her hooks into me. So my wish for all of you from the United States who are coming to Haiti for the first time is that Haiti gets her hooks into you so you will keep coming back again and again to this beautiful country.
We at the U.S. Embassy to Haiti are really proud to be sponsors of this year’s Summit. The first Haiti Tech Summit catalyzed the private sector, governments, and international community to find new ways for all of us to work together, to empower young entrepreneurs from Haiti and the United States, and to share and develop technological advancements.
Since that first Haiti Tech Summit, a number of activities here on the ground have carried on that spirit. So since my return to Haiti in this new incarnation as Ambassador, I’ve been impressed by the Start-up Grind events; Facebook Developer’s Circle; and the “Haiti Start” program powered by Google Developers Launchpad.
We’ve seen that this infusion of international creativity through private sector-led initiatives has motivated and inspired a large number of young Haitians. (and again I’m really glad we’ve got more folks watching this on the live-stream.) And these initiatives, this infusion of creative spirit has supported their development also as the next generation of job-creators.
As Christine just mentioned, we’re really happy that with support from our Embassy we’ve been able to bring 25 young entrepreneurs from throughout Haiti to participate with us this year at the Summit. You all are going to hear more from this fantastic group of Haitian entrepreneurs during the start-up pitch competition a little later today which will be moderated by our U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Jeanne Clark. Now these 25 entrepreneurs represent six of Haiti’s 10 departments – and this was important to us to get this geographic spread. Of course we are outside the capitol of Port au Prince, we’ve got the number two city up North in Cap Haitien and have the number 3 city in size les Cayes in the South. We wanted to make sure we got a geographic spread at this event because there are wonderful things going on throughout Haiti with this young entrepreneurial spirit. I also want to point out that half of these twenty-five are women entrepreneurs.
Of course, we all believe and I’ve got to say from the U.S. perspective, we clearly believe that advancing women’s economic participation globally remains absolutely key for all of us to power our own economies and create greater prosperity in all of our countries. And I want to take a minute and give a round of applause for the last panel, the women of influence panel, you guys were fantastic!
While the United States and Haiti share a large number of common priorities, one that we both agree on is the importance of economic growth and prosperity to both of our countries.
It is very satisfying and wonderful to see representatives froma number of America’s leading technology firms here this week-end. Companies like Twitter, Google, Facebook and Amazon and then we’ve got a broader range of companies including Cisco and Master Card and many more, and we’re really demonstrating to the world U.S. compatriots the value of innovative technology on a daily basis. So thank you for coming out to Haiti this week-end and for the Haiti Tech Summit.
I know that Slack is also here, and I wanted to mention that back at the U.S. State Department, our Bureau of International Information Programs actively seeks to tap emerging technology, and actually has been implementing Slack’s technology for the past four years. (Yes, that was Slack) In fact, the creativity and multiplier effect we see technology presenting across the world truly makes it a powerful, powerful force for economic growth across the world.
We heard U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, speaking earlier this week about the importance of U.S. economic diplomacy, he noted that economic diplomacy a foreign policy tool that benefits Americans as we build relationships that create jobs, sustain American businesses, and spur economic growth not only in our own country but around the world.
We can see that the Government of Haiti, also clearly recognizes the importance of technology and innovation with regard to economic growth – and of course all of us here in this room heard that directly yesterday from Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise. I know that a number of you were also present at the recent Alpha Haiti launch which was a huge success and which President Moise also referenced yesterday afternoon.
Before I speak a bit about how our work here in Haiti supports a number of tech initiatives, I wanted to share just a few recent developments back in the U.S. with you, both Haitian and American. Our White House has been looking at how the Administration is doing in empowering Americans to innovate.
We know that we’re on the verge of technological revolutions that could improve every aspect of our lives not only in the U.S. but around the world, in creating create new wealth for our country, and open up new frontiers in science, medicine, and communication. Our White House has established a new “Office of American Innovation” to develop policies that improve government services and launch initiatives focused on innovation.
While back at home in the U.S. we are exploring new ways for our government, industry and academic community to collaborate, we also look overseas and here in Haiti at how our U.S. development partnerships also support tech modernization efforts. USAID, is our US Agency for International Development our bilateral assistance agency and along with the State Department, and the Centers for Disease Control, USAID is a big part of our U.S. Embassy, our U.S.mission.
Here in Haiti, we have for example, a USAID-supported program called “Civitax”, bringing in civic responsibility, civic participation and domestic resource mobilization. Through a USAID supported program LOKAL Plus we work with Haiti’s municipalities and local tax authorities providing software and hardware so these municipalities can more efficiently collect revenue in order to support basic services that Haitian municipalities provide their citizens.
We do this at the national level here in Haiti as well through USAID’s Integrated Financial Management Systems project which also supports at the national level the Haitian tax authority in replacing outdated IT equipment, the software also used for the collection and registering of taxes, maintain accurate tax records and also including the installation of a Unified Exchange Platform across 13 Haitian government agencies to allow these institutions to securely and rapidly exchange financial information. And all of this is in support of the Haitian government’s all important domestic resource mobilization. So the domestic resources are able to be collected and then used again for the benefit for Haitian citizens in health, education and other key social sector services.
We have a range of other USAID-supported development programs. We are helping connect folks here with modern technologies in the agricultural, health, and banking sectors, here in Haiti as well. For those of you who traveled from the United States, I’m focusing on USAID and our assistance and support programs because I’m a big believer that we in U.S. Government should be good stewards of the U.S. taxpayer dollars. These U.S. supported programs here in Haiti are doing important work in governance, agriculture, health, education and financial services.
For example, through USAID’s LEAD program is working with Surtab. Maybe a few of you visited their booth outside. Surtab is located in the SONAPI Industrial Park. They are designing and producing here in Haiti affordable tablets that are accessible at affordable price for the general Haitian population. They are offering innovated onsite training to Haitian schools and other institutions. USAID supported and leveraged additional private sector investment to launch this initiative. And I wanted to mention, in standing up this initiative with Surtab one of our priorities- since we’re just following the women of influence panel- was making sure this highly skilled workforce also includes a significant percentage of women.
We’re also working on another really innovative USAID project called “Finance Inclusive.” This project supports educating local Haitian financial institution clients on mobile money services. Of course this is helping increase Haiti’s use of digital finance tools. We’ve called this the Mon Cash application. We are seeing efforts such as these are actually making a difference here in Haiti. The World Bank’s Global Financial Index takes a look at percentage of adults around the world using mobile money accounts and in Haiti we saw this figure rose from just 4% in 2014 to 14% in 2017. Definitely a positive trend.
We have another reawlly interestingUSAID supported project in the agricultural sector called SMASH “Smallholder Alliance for Sorghum in Haiti” — a partnership with a leading Haitian firm BRANA. Part of this support for local Haitian growers of the , launched “ SMASH Mobil,” a market-driven, mobile-first supply chain solution designed to support Haitian sorghum producers, very small farmers, extension agents, processors, and others across the Haitian sorghum industry to help identify opportunities to buy and sell sorghum, and to streamline supplier relationship management, yield projections, purchasing process and inventory management, as well quality assurance. This has really been a ground breaking project in this sector for Haiti’s very vibrant agriculture sector bringing technology to the farmers.
In the health sector, we are supporting tech solutions as well. We have a global development alliance among USAID, St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, Kellogg Foundation, and the GE Foundation. This project creates cost-effective solutions with regard to biomedical equipment. Training biomedical engineers here in Haiti as well as supporting solutions for the maintenance of really critical biomedical equipment including incubators, anesthesia equipment, other critical care applications in the health sector. So we see a big participation by the U.S. mission supporting these various innovations and projects, but we also see as I mentioned big Haitian government focus on support to the tech sector as well as great Haitian private sector interest as well.
It was great to have had of course President Moise with us here yesterday afternoon. I hope a few of you also got to meet the Governor of the Central Bank of Haiti, who was with us yesterday as well, the Minister for Haitians Living Abroad Guy Andre Junior Francois, and of course we just heard Tessa Jacques from CFI and Christine Coupet from the President’s advisory panel so we see a great partnership, I think, between the U.S. government, the Haitian Government, and the U.S. private sector, the Haitian private sector here in tech.
I also wanted to just say a word about what the Haitian administration is doing here to grow its economy with international support and encouragement. Just last week, we saw a team from the IMF here to conduct an interim assessment of Haiti’s Staff-Monitored Program. That assessment showed that Haïti is taking positive steps to control the fiscal deficit and is taking positive action in the power sector — two really important foundations of a solid economy.
As tech companies, as tech innovators these improvements are of course issues that really matter to all of you because these issues and progress in both the fiscal sector and the power sector are going to lead to you having the electricity for example you need to power innovation and the fiscal stability you seek to maximize your profits.
Now you heard President Moise yesterday speak at length on his administration’s efforts on electricity and power generation. I want to note that we also have USAID support also in microgrids and in power project in the North in Caricol as well as US private sector activity in electricity and power generation as well.
Across the board as we see the Haitian government implementing its road map for development and its roadmap for fiscal reform we also see all of this is impacting positively on Haiti’s business climate.
No some of you in the audience who have traveled from the U.S. may have IPR issues on your mind. I wanted to mention that we at the U.S. Embassy are working with the Haitian government also on a number of protection of intellectual property priorities. In fact, the Haitian government has made the protection of intellectual property a priority, realizing of course that this is also a cornerstone in developing a vibrant tech sector.
In Haiti, as anywhere else in the world, long-term prosperity can only be assured through an economic pie that continues to expand to include women and youth and that offers opportunities through job creation and economic growth.
We know and I think we can all agree that the only sustainable solution is based on continued innovation and private investment – domestic and foreign. We see here today young Haitian entrepreneurs taking the lead, seizing a growing number of exciting opportunities.
As the U.S. government representative here as the U.S. Ambassador I want to underscore that the United States is committed to partnering with the Haitian people, the Haitian youth, the Government of Haiti, the private sector, and the diaspora members who have traveled to participate in the Haiti Tech Summit.
We are committed to promoting economic growth through increasing partnerships with leaders like you. We want to work with you to leverage your existing business and investment, and other ties to bolster prosperity in Haiti and in the United States. We see this as a true win – win.
One way we partner with Haiti is through the U.S. strategy for engagement in the Caribbean, Caribbean 2020.
And I will also mention I hope you will all continue to take a look at the booths outside. There is so much more we are doing in Haiti outside of the tech sector. For example we have one of our biggest USAID implementers, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with some material on partnerships on basic literacy, build back safer, when we reinforce shelter post Hurricane Matthew, for example. As I said aside from tech we are working here as the U.S. Embassy across health, education economic growth, agriculture and so much more
A final word on youth we realize our journey to prosperity in the entire hemisphere the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean our mutual journey to prosperity is not going to occur unless we are serious about listening to and working with you.
You, the youth of the United States of Haiti, are today’s business creators and tomorrow’s leaders. We recognize that young leaders have the power to bring about real growth and positive change, which is why we are committed to supporting Haiti’s youth through programs like the “Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative” (YLAI), which empowers entrepreneurs and civil society leaders with the training, tools, networks, and resources they need to transform their societies and contribute to economic development in the hemisphere.
I am pleased we have one of our Haitian YLAI Alumna Ms. Marie Flor. She owns and Operates the Délices by Marie Flor bakery. I wanted to give Marie a special shout out as a YLAI Alum this morning as she has been so instrumental in supporting the work of her fellow YLAIs throughout the country.
And again, this focus on youth is why we are so proud to have sponsored 25 entrepreneurs from across Haiti for the Start-up Lab here at this Summit.
I was also proud to have worked alongside many of our U.S. exchange program alums in April in the South in Les Cayes at our “TechCamp Okay”
for young entrepreneurs. It’s been one of my favorite activities since returning to Haiti. We really appreciate Christine Souffrant’s participation along with Carel of Chokarella as well our own Marc Alain Boucicault from Banj. One thing I love about this is We never say good-by we just keep seeing wonderful tech innovators across the country.
I would like to close by sharing the words of USAID Administrator
Mark Green: “Innovation is making the impossible, possible,
the unsolvable, solvable. Nowhere is this more true than in international development, where technology and new thinking are enabling us
to reinvent how we go about fulfilling our mission.”
So many of you tech entrepreneurs here this morning on a daily basis make the “impossible” possible — and the “unsolvable” solvable.
We salute you and support you, and my team and I are here today to celebrate our vibrant Haitian-American partnership with you all.
Thank you and I look forward to continue to meet with you.