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A business solution to Haiti's poverty

Foreign aid was vital after the Jan. 12 earthquake. But long-term prosperity depends on business development.

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Celebrities, not-for-profits, and the multilateral banks have rallied since Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake. They saved lives and created some order. They also reconnected Haiti to important networks of foreign aid and charity. The question now is, how do we connect Haiti to networks of prosperity?

I was invited by the leaders of Haiti's private sector to speak about enterprise solutions to poverty at a conference last month, held two hours outside Port-au-Prince, the capital. It took place at a former Club Med that is now the interim Haiti headquarters of the World Bank.

The list of not-for-profit organizations advocating this approach grows each day. Haiti's thoughtful president, René Préval, told me that he did have "some reservations about aid," and that he was "open to the private sector" to help rebuild.

Even Bono recently made the pivot away from just charity and debt forgiveness. He is lauding indigenous entrepreneurs, and says, "Smart aid aims to put itself out of business in a generation or two."

But the private sector here has an atrocious record. "The country's elites conspired for two centuries to maintain business models that exploited the poor," says Pierre Marie Boisson, a Harvard-educated, Haitian international banker. "The exchange rate regime is exacerbated by the influx of aid and favors importers and wholesalers, not the poor."

Profiles in business courage


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