Haiti: Bring your Workforce into the 21st Century

The Haitian government has been saying that Haiti is “open for business” for years, but is Haiti's workforce ready? If not, how can Haiti build a dynamic workforce? Indeed, Haiti’s business landscape shows evidence of new businesses. For instance, several high-end hotels, hospitals, and non-profits are now operating. These new investments present Haiti with a unique opportunity to develop a dynamic workforce. International organizations and Haitians should consider the following factors as they begin to create a workforce and train its leaders.

The Haitian Diaspora Must Participate in Building Haiti’s Workforce

The majority of the workforce will need to be educated, re-educated, or trained. Habitat for Humanity is one of the few organizations that understand the importance of enlisting the Diaspora in building a sustainable workforce.   In 2011, Habitat for Humanity reported, “In consultation with the Haitian government, Habitat for Humanity started recruiting and placing experts from the Haitian Diaspora to provide community-focused, technical support to help the Haitian government make critical decisions.” Although the recruitment is geared to hiring managers for shelters and resettlements, the same principle applies to Haiti’s workforce and leadership development as it seeks to become an emerging market in the Caribbean. According to Habitat for Humanity’s article, “The Haitian Diaspora was a natural place to identify and recruit individuals who not only have the skill-set but also a vested interest in rebuilding Haiti.”

The Haitian Diaspora must be part of the educational and training process on a larger scale, from the introduction of basic skills to the learning and development of higher-order thinking skills. The Diaspora has more than enough human resources with the education, expertise, and experience to build its workforce. This is not to say that Haiti’s international partners cannot participate in building its workforce, but they should not be the main stakeholders.

Incorporating Cultural Intelligence as Part of Haiti’s Strategy in Developing its Workforce

The learning of any group is complicated when there is an absence of Cultural Intelligence.  One might ask, what is Cultural Intelligence? According to David C. Thomas and Kerr Inkson (2004):

Cultural Intelligence means being skilled and flexible about understanding a culture, learning more about it from one’s ongoing interactions with it, and gradually reshaping one’s thinking to be more sympathetic to the culture and one’s behavior to be more skilled and appropriate when interacting with others from the culture. (p.14)

Most of the recognized companies that are building businesses in Haiti have their headquarters in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. As they create job opportunities, they must avoid the outdated management practiced in their own countries. As Gary Hamel and Bill Breen (2007) emphasize:

Management is out of date. Like the combustion engine, it’s a technology that has largely stopped evolving, and that’s not good. Why? Because management—the capacity to marshal resources, lay out plans, program work, and spur effort—is central to the accomplishment of the human purpose. When it’s less effective than it could be (or needs to be), we all pay the price (p. x).

The international business community is already struggling to make the most of its human resources, but this is even more difficult in Haiti because of language and culture barriers.

This might explain why many international businesses and non-governmental organizations have not been successful in Haiti. Cultural Intelligence is missing. This is shown consistently through the disrespect that many Haitians have reported when working with some of their international partners. Therefore, part of the reason to include the Haitian Diaspora in the country’s workforce development is to minimize some of the cultural deficits in organizations working in Haiti. This is not to say that only the Haitian Diaspora has the Cultural Intelligence to develop Haiti's workforce, but those who have the best understanding of the Haitian context have the best chance of ensuring the country's success.

The challenge will be for companies to work with people who possess Cultural Intelligence, and who are comfortable promoting Haiti's workforce at the local, national, and global levels.

Existing and Future Businesses Must Move from Paternalism to Partnership

Since the 2010 earthquake, the potential of Haiti's human resources has been revealed to the global market. For the most part, the world has seen the resiliency, strength, and desire of the Haitian people to become economically independent. One way to accomplish this is to give the people of Haiti, and the Haitian Diaspora, a voice in the construction of Haiti's workforce. As Jim Collins writes in Good to Great (2001), “Leading does not mean coming up with the answers and then motivating everyone to follow your messianic vision” (p.75). Workforce development in Haiti must be a shared process. Part of that process requires a genuine sense of respect for and vision of what that workforce will look like.

Businesses Must Realize that Haiti has Its Own System

In addition to changing their perception of how they view and work with Haiti, businesses must realize that Haiti has its own system.  In bringing Haiti’s workforce into the twenty-first century, businesses must understand the details of Haiti’s system beyond what transpired during and after the 2010 earthquake. A lesson on the importance of learning Haiti’s system was shared four weeks ago at the Haitian-American Business Network small business expo. Mr. Stephane Jean-Baptiste, Vice-President of Marketing at Kreyol Essence, warned, “Haitians have their own system that must be learned -- even some Haitian Americans and foreigners must dispel the notion that ‘I know everything and I’m here to help you’ type of mentality.” He encourages business leaders to invite Haitians to the table. Mr. Jean-Baptise has ten employees in his factory and is hoping to add more.

So why is it important to focus on producing a quality workforce in Haiti? Haiti has a market potential of ten million people, and as the political and economic conditions continue to improve, that number will only grow as Diasporans return to their homeland. To bring Haiti’s workforce into the 21st century, the Haitian Diaspora must be included, Cultural Intelligence must play a factor in how foreign organizations develop its workforce, and Haiti's own system must be taken into consideration.

By-Line: Daniella Bien-Aime

Short Biography:

Daniella Bien-Aime is a facilitator, learning and leadership development consultant, and educator. She has experience in domestic and international training and development with a strong understanding of Haiti. Ms. Bien-Aime holds a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership and a master’s degree in Adult Learning and Leadership. Follow her on Twitter @dbienaime; she can be reached at dbienaime@gmail.com.

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