Partnering for Haiti's Future Conference (Part 5)
Counselor Cheryl D. Mills, Chief of Staff, Department of State
Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
COUNSELOR CHERYL D. MILLS: Good afternoon. It is great to see so many of you all here. I cannot tell you how heartening this is on so many different levels, so I am enormously appreciative.
Thank you, Cheryl, for that introduction.
I also want to take a moment to thank all of those who participated, particularly our panelists, in Partnering for Haiti’s Future. I particularly want to thank Ambassador Joseph and I also want to thank several of our panel members who I know who are here today, Mr. Kesner Pharel, Mr. Yves Francois, Mr. Herald Charles, and the panel that we had of business owners. We do know that it takes a lot to take time out, to spend time trying to ensure that we have the best opportunity to know how we can be effective partners in Haiti, so we are grateful for the time that you all took to help share that with us and share that with you all.
I also want to take a moment to thank Tom and also to thank the Haiti Special Coordinator’s Office. For those of you who don’t know, they spend countless hours every day doing nothing but thinking about how we can be a better partner to Haiti. So it’s not an easy task because, as everybody knows, the U.S. Government is a complicated place. We don’t always do things the way we’d like or as well as we’d like, but we certainly do our best to try and do it. One of the things that has been nice about having Tom’s leadership and the Haiti Special Coordinator’s Office is that we have folks who are dedicated to helping us get it right, so I want to say a particular thank you to them.
As you all might know, this conference marks the first time this government and certainly this department has hosted an event that’s been focused on a single country in the hemisphere. So everything that’s going on in the world today, and there’s a lot going on in the world today as you know, didn’t detract from the fact that we thought this was a critically important conference to hold, and that President Obama and Secretary Clinton had determined that Haiti is a priority. A priority before the earthquake happened. A priority that they had elevated and determined that we needed to ensure that we had a strategy for how we could do things better, how we could get things right, how we could ensure that the investments we were making in Haiti actually changed the lives of people on the ground. So that someone could actually speak to why their life was different because of the United States investment as opposed to wondering what happened to all the dollars that had been promised.
I think on many levels they saw that many people saw, not only through the earthquake but after that. That is that Haiti is worth it. Haiti is more than deserving of that type of investment, and more than deserving of the opportunity of good partnership through all the different institutions and countries that are seeking to do a better job. That they are worth the investment of ensuring that they have the best opportunity to decide their own destiny.
In a lot of ways your dedication and your willingness to be here is a gift. It’s a gift because it helps us be better. It’s a gift because it helps us think about how we can help you be better. But most particularly it’s a gift because it helps us have the opportunity to serve and in many chances in life we don’t always have the best opportunities to have the chance to do that. This presents that opportunity.
I have had the joy as Counselor and Chief of Staff to spend a lot of time in Haiti and to have had the opportunity to try to understand what it means to be of service in Haiti. I have visited often. And when I have visited not only am I visiting my colleagues who are there, but I am visiting with the people who are in Haiti, civil society, the private sector, the government and the leadership, trying to understand what have we done right, what can we do better, what have we not thought about to be better.
In a lot of ways what we also are trying to do is ensure that the more than a billion dollars that the United States taxpayers have decided is worth the investment in Haiti, is actually getting spent the way that it should. That there are tangible and real results. Because ultimately if our investments in Haiti aren’t resulting in ways in which we are catalyzing economic growth and prosperity, then we actually haven’t achieved our goals. We are seeking to create jobs in Haiti. We are seeking to spur agricultural productivity and food security in Haiti. We are trying to make sure that there are effective health systems and justice systems and education systems in Haiti. We are trying to ensure that there is sustainable development so that Haiti has the opportunity to ultimately be independent of aid. Not only independent of our aid, but the aid of others.
People always ask me, what would success in Haiti look like? For me, I always think of success in Haiti as being that moment when Haiti is the nation that is making its donation to another in need, and Haiti is the one helping to shepherd them through the path they need to go.
Because ultimately that’s what we are all seeking. How we get there is critically important. So many in this room and so many people outside this room are strategically critical to us getting there.
I know that Tom spent some time talking a little bit about our strategy and why we chose the areas to invest in that we did. Haiti in many ways is actually a reflection of President
Obama’s commitment in the first development directive that was ever done by a President. That commitment was to actually figure out how we could actually listen to the country’s desires, which should not be so revolutionary, but oddly enough, when you’re a power as big as the United States often we think we know what’s better for people than what people know for themselves. So President Obama said that one of the first things we have to do is ensure that any strategies that we’re investing in are country-owned.
We have to ensure that in addition to being country-owned that we are seeking actual results. That we are actually willing to commit to results, measure those results, hold ourselves accountable, and hold our partners accountable for whether or not they actually achieve them. He said we had to make sure that we coordinated. That the United States should not actually be committed to doing everything and all things. That we should pick those things that we can do well; we should let others lead in areas where they can do well; and we should make sure that we are coordinated.
He said that we needed to be comprehensive, so we shouldn’t be only looking for the top or the skim or the thing that’s easy to do. We should be thinking about the whole solution. You’ve got to go deep. You can’t just go for the quick win. And most particularly what he said we had to do was actually look for sustainability. How do we ensure that what we are creating has lasting value, that it is sustainable, that when we leave what we don’t leave behind is an empty space, but a system in place to be able to continue the work that was being done.
Those values guided the strategy that we actually invested in, and as we sat with the government and looked at what their values and priorities were and as we listened to the people in Haiti about their priorities, we set out to invest in four areas. We set out to invest in agriculture because 60 percent of the population derives some of their income from agriculture and we knew that we needed to be able to ensure that Haiti had the opportunity to not only feed itself, but to be able to use some of its incredible food sources to actually feed others and export that.
We actually decided to invest in infrastructure and particularly in the electricity sector because every time we spoke with potential investors they spoke about the constraints to investing in Haiti, and one of the key ones was the limits on electricity. The limits on energy. Oh, they would love to invest in Haiti, but -- So we said we had to come up with a strategy so there was no but attached to it. So we went after energy and the electricity sector to see how we might be able to help Haiti be able to devise a long-term strategy for how it delivers electricity, and most particularly, so it had the best opportunity to ensure that instead of 12 percent of the population having the lights on at night that 100 percent of the population could.
We went after rule of law and governance because we knew that in the end people’s willingness to invest and people’s own safety and security in the country is compromised if they don’t have a system for justice that works, if they don’t have governance that delivers for them. What good is a democracy if democracy is not delivering what you need? And if it wasn’t also the case that people could expect that when wrongs were done they were redressed. We went after investing in that sector because we believed we were one of the few who would do it, and we believed deeply in the impact and power of that because we believe deeply in the impact and power of free democracies.
Lastly but not least, we went after health. Not only because it was an area that we had been investing deeply in for some period of time with some success, but because we knew that in the end we all want the health of our families and our children, and we need that to be able to work in the jobs that will generate the prosperity.
So those were the sectors in which we chose to invest.
There were many sectors in which we did not invest, and I say that because I am usually the person who is most pillared for not investing in education in Haiti.
The truth of the matter is the United States has always invested somewhere between $10 and $15 million a year in education in Haiti, and that’s something we continue to do. But what we also appreciated is that there were other partners out there who were investing deeply in other sectors and we needed to be a partner in their leadership. Just as we wanted them to partner in our leadership, in our sectors, there were such sectors as tourism and education and the transport corridors where there are other donors from the IDB to Spain to Canada to Cuba to Venezuela, who are providing leadership in those sectors and what we needed to do was be willing to get on their train and help support what they were doing in those sectors as well, and that’s what we have tried to do.
We have tried to live to the commitment that President Obama put forward for all of our development investments and that is namely that we learn how to coordinate, and that we learn how to do that in an effective fashion.
Which brings us to today’s conference and the opportunity to leverage your support for Haiti.
During my travels there are two questions now I typically get. The first is, are things getting better in Haiti? The second is, how can I do business with the U.S. Government in Haiti, because I believe I have things that the people in Haiti need.
My answer to the first question is usually yes, caveated by the fact that there’s an enormous amount of work that still needs to be done, so we have a long way to go, so no one should believe the fact that we are seeing improvement means that there’s any reason for anybody to rest. There is no rest. There should be no rest because there is so much to do.
The second, how can I work with the U.S. Government was one that I think presented us with the most challenge, because we think we’re transparent. We think everybody knows how to reach us, how to find us, they certainly can email me at any hour of the day or night. So we couldn’t imagine why it was as challenging to be able to actually partner with us to invest in Haiti. This conference was spawned from the notion that we needed to create more transparency and a better opportunity for people to understand how they could do business with the U.S. Government, what our limitations and requirements are, and what were the best opportunities to ensure that we were being able to leverage the kind of partnerships that were out there so that we could all help in rebuilding Haiti’s economy and its infrastructure and its institutions.
As many of you in this room who are from the Diaspora in Haiti know, you are uniquely situated to help. You are uniquely situated to be able to leverage the contracting facilities that we have because you have talents that we often have as part of our requirements. We are often looking for those who have experience with Haiti. We are often looking for those who speak Creole. We are often looking for those who are in a position to be able to hit the ground and be effective immediately.
So one of the things we wanted to be able to do was to speak to what that process was, so that when we’re putting out requests for proposals there’s the best opportunity for you all to be able to partner with us and deliver the kinds of services that we need.
And while the law doesn’t permit set-asides for particular communities, like set-asides for the Haitian Diaspora or Haitian-American businesses, what the law does allow is for us to actually seek specific opportunities with small and disadvantaged businesses, with minority businesses, with women’s businesses, with veteran businesses -- all categories in which many from the Haitian-American community and other communities fall. So we want to make sure that you all are aware of those particular opportunities so there is the best chance for you to have the opportunity to help us be good partners in Haiti.
I know in a lot of ways there has been a lot of information that you probably have heard here today that hopefully was useful. But there might be things that you still feel like you need to know. Part of what we wanted to create was an avenue in so you had the best opportunity to follow up on those things so that we could actually ensure that what we were trying to do here today actually achieved what we wanted.
Because in the end, Haiti’s strength ultimately lies in creating the small and medium-sized enterprises, the private sector space that actually is missing in Haiti.
One of the most profound conversations I had when I was first starting to work in Haiti was oddly in Rome when I was meeting with the Minister of Agriculture from the Dominican Republic. We were there for a Haiti Conference which was ten days after the earthquake, and talking actually about agriculture. He talked about the reason why the Dominican Republic was so much more effective in their agriculture and why they could do things with eggs, with chickens, with all kinds of crops that Haiti couldn’t do. He said it’s quite simple. They’re missing that whole middle tier of agro-producers. They don’t have the warehouses that are needed to actually be able to get the goods from the farm to the market. They actually don’t have the people who do the washing and the preparing of those crops in a way that ensure they meet the standards for export. They’re missing that whole tier, which means we get the benefit of all of that, and what they need is the creation of that tier not only in agriculture but in most of their sectors.
That’s why we’ve spent so much of our time thinking about how to get at that space and how to ensure that in the end we are creating the kind of platform for that missing tier. You all are part of the answer to that.
So I want to close just by sharing one of the things that I often think about that was said to me in 1992 by James Carville. He said it in a room the night before President Clinton was elected. It was 1992. It is something that has always had resonance for me and it is something I often think about. He said there are two great gifts that you can give to another. One is the gift of your love; the other is the gift of your labor. In those rare instances where you’re able to give the gift of both your love and your labor, the gift that you’re able to give is invaluable and the difference that you can make is immeasurable.
I hope that you all continue to find ways to give the gift of your labor and your love to Haiti, and I hope that we can help you do that in ways that ultimately change the lives on the ground in ways that people in Haiti most want to see for themselves. So I am grateful for your presence, I am grateful for your commitment, and I am hopeful that we will find many opportunities to do more together.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY BENTON: That concludes today’s conference. Like I said it is the first but it’s not the last time. Let’s come back together, smaller groups. We’ll figure out how to do that. And if we do another day-long conference we’ll do breakout sessions, we’ll do some things, but we wanted to bring you in, wanted to get started, like Cheryl said, in the space.
So thank you, be careful, have a great weekend and go Steelers.