"The country needs a long term vision" - 4 Lessons for Haiti inspired from working for the Obama administration

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • October 13, 2014 3:14 PM EDT

If you are heading in all directions you are heading in no direction.

Since the earthquake we have seen many forces being mobilized to rebuild Haiti and create a better path for the country. Billions of dollars went into aid and development projects. Many players got involved from foreign governments, the Diaspora, Haiti’s government, businesses, and NGOs. But, are all of them moving in the same direction? Do they coordinate their actions? Are they taking the country to the same place?

We spoke with Cleve Mesidor about Haiti’s long term development.

Cleve is a former Obama Presidential Appointee with over 15 years of public affairs, policy, and economic development experience.

As Director of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, she was charged with promoting national economic programs and high profile public-private partnerships.

Last year Cleve spent six months in Haiti and has seen with a fresh eye the realities on the ground. She shared her view on the country's further development.

Define a long term vision

According to Cleve the main players in Haiti are working disjointly, and that’s mainly due to the lack of a long-term vision for the country.

"In Haiti there are lots of players, lots of activity, but it's not moving towards one goal. The impact, therefore, is very little. You have a lot of major players such as the governments of Canada, France, the United States of America, world organizations like the UN, the World Bank, the IDB, the Haitian government, and the Haitian Diaspora. All of these players are engaged and there are millions of dollars of investments, but if they are not being invested in a collaborative way where priorities are being aligned, you are not going to have that impact that is necessary," noted Cleve.

She believes that the best thing the Haitian Government can do is to define a long term vision for Haiti. It will give the country a direction and help align the goals of the players involved. It will also spark conversations around what should be the right direction from each player's perspective.

However, there are certain obstacles to forming a long term vision. One of them is the fact that the president can only serve one term, which is too short when it comes to implementing a long term vision.

The second impediment is that there's not a lot of institutional structure on the public or private side that would actually keep things going long term.

"However, absence of a real long term vision that has buy in, that is resourced, everybody's flying blind. You are going to have activity but not real impact, and it will be much more difficult for the private sector to chart a course," noted Cleve.

Grow the private sector

Cleve believes that Haiti's biggest opportunity for development lies in growing its private sector.

"The Government does not create jobs. We were very clear about that in the Obama administration’s first term," says Cleve.

According to Cleve, the government's role in this process is to create the environment for businesses to flourish and to then get out of the way.

"The focus has been so narrowly on aid and disaster assistance for so long—and those areas are very critical, but there hasn't been enough room or attention to investment, business opportunity, capacity building, being more enterprise focused," pointed Cleve.

She added: "If you grow Haiti's private sector you enable the creation of a middle class, and it's that middle class that will hold government accountable.”

Measure success in decades, not years

Based on her professional experience Cleve believes that sustainable development is measured in decades, not years.

"It has to be about where we are 10 years from now, where are we 20 years from now, where are we 30 years from now. We have to start implementing strategies that we know will not show any results for another 5 years, that we may see some impact in 10 years, but it's not until 30 years that we are going to see it. That is how you grow in my opinion, it is redefining how we measure success," noted Cleve.

Sustainable development happens from the bottom up

During Cleve's work with the Obama administration, the government agencies were very focused on bottom-up growth and empowering community leaders, communities, cities in the US to stop fighting amongst each other and to realize that for Indiana, for example, Chicago is not an enemy, China is the competition, Brazil is the competition.

The US government used to make small investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in projects initiated by the local communities. They looked at these investments as having catalytic power for the local projects. By partnering with the government, local businesses could go after bigger investors because they can show the government's support and involvement.

"We always believed that it was those small investments that would bring in the big fish, and the big players," says Cleve.

"Same thing with Haiti, it has to be bottom up. That's why it's about training and investing in Haiti's masses, that's why it's about supporting the private sector."

Currently Cleve Mesidor works as Global Solutions Consultant with the Raben Group, a policy, communications, and lobbying firm based in Washington, D.C.