Members of the Clinton Global Initiative, a collection of the most powerful and prominent corporate executives, businesspeople, philanthropists, and celebrities who met in New York City throughout the week, made commitments of roughly $220 million and offered proposals that could significantly bolster business development on the island nation devastated by the January 12 earthquake.
As a result of the worst natural disaster that Haiti has ever faced, President Rene Preval said that 120% of the country’s gross domestic product – its total economic output – had been wiped out and that the country’s infrastructure had been totally demolished, along with 80% of the housing stock and all government buildings in Port Au Prince, the nation’s capital. “What we need is international aid to reconstruct our infrastructure. We have to build roads and electricity,” Preval told the crowd of more than 1,000. “We need private investment in order to create jobs. And we need to invest in human infrastructure … men and women to find solutions.”
Under the banner “Build Back Better,” the six-month-old Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which is co-chaired by former president Bill Clinton, is working with CGI to boost such investment. In a recent report released by the Commission, only 20% of the $5.5 billion pledged by international donors worldwide has been allocated. The report further states that even if all monies were disbursed, there would be an investment gap of $5 billion. The former president has also enlisted the help of Klaus Schwab, chairman of the World Economic Forum, to gain additional resources from the global business community. Clinton said, “We need more investment from the private sector, which is critical to short-term job creation and long-term success for recovery. Opportunity is ripe for businesses looking to grow or expand their operations, particularly in agribusiness, textiles, infrastructure, and clean energy—many of the same areas where CGI members could easily partner to increase their scope, expand their reach, and improve more lives.”
According to CGI, its Haitian Action Network, which meets monthly in Port Au Prince, has initiated 120 restoration projects such as industrial development, education, and employment training. In fact, Coca-Cola has produced a special Haiti Hope fruit drink as part of its Odwalla brand, where 100% of the profits go to helping 25,000 Haitian farmers develop a sustainable mango industry. Other corporations that have made significant investments include Royal Caribbean International, Macy’s, and Boeing.
One of the most promising developments for Haitian entrepreneurs has been the creation of a $20 million fund to provide loans to small and medium-sized businesses. One of the backers is Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, who pledged to contribute half the seed money for the fund. Clinton said that such financing will provide “the tools to transform [entrepreneurs’] aspirations, hard work, and good ideas into profitable businesses that create jobs and help fuel the growth of the Haitian economy.”
Magalie Noel Dresse, president of Caribbean Craft Haiti, says it is vital for local entrepreneurs to develop partnerships. “[For us], it is urgent that we team up with export-ready companies,” she said during the panel discussion. “Haitian culture is not sold enough around the world.” Her company committed to producing 1,000 jobs over the next year if she could extend its reach into offshore markets.
Maryse P. Kedar, director of the Progress and Development Foundation, a non-government organization focused on school construction, said more Haitians must be “empowered to get into the game. They’re the ones who will have to continue in this difficult task [of rebuilding].”
Haitian President Preval maintained that resurrecting Haiti will continue to be fraught with such challenges. For one, his administration must push forward redevelopment efforts and, at the same time, ensure a smooth, noncontroversial transition to a new presidential administration over the next few months. He said, “You cannot construct a country today without democracy. We will have an election in November, and we must have a legitimate government to have a true rebuilding of our country.”