Humans are created and mandated to help each other. Reflecting on the earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, I recognize that now more than ever before.

Though a myriad of aid critics have hit the headlines in recent years, I have learned from my own experience that the desire to support others and build a flourishing culture of mutual care is not the problem. Rather, it is the way humans often go about aid that is problematic. We need to adapt the current models that have been implemented in developing economies and communities of high unemployment for decades.

When I returned to Haiti after completing my university studies in the United States, I was thrilled at the potential of collaborative efforts to fight poverty in my country—an optimistic perspective soon shattered by the unsustainable practices I witnessed on the ground.

These flaws were only exacerbated by the earthquake. I watched as vast amounts of resources, mostly allocated through nonprofits and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), soon dissolved and disappeared without improving people’s lives or resolving Haiti’s underlying challenges.

Most aid organizations did not partner with Haiti’s business sector.

Instead, these organizations provided foreign aid that undercut Haitian businesses’ ability to compete in the local market and serve their respective communities. Just twelve months after the earthquake, the Associated Press stated that out of every $100 spent by US organizations in Haiti, only $1.60 was won by Haitian contractors—a mere $1.60!

At first, my frustration only grew.

Albert Einstein supposedly once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In Haiti, the same attempts, the same poverty-reduction strategies, only continued.

As I interacted with various professionals helping with post-quake disaster response, I overheard an international aid worker joking that she wished there would be another earthquake so that she could take another helicopter ride. Foreign doctors and nurses streamed into the country, truly seeking to help, yet rarely joined forces with the network of Haitian medical professionals, including my own friends and colleagues with decades of experience who were pushed to the sidelines even in their own medical facilities.

Such attitudes and mindsets were the norm in a post-earthquake recovery environment flooded with millions of dollars in cash and the inevitable false sense of hope.

The worst part? Most aid and development workers weren’t willing to adjust their strategy in Haiti, a country known by many as the “Republic of NGOs.”

The biggest competitor Haitian businesses faced was the frantic distribution of donated cash and subsidized imported goods—especially the distribution of products for free or below market value. For weeks, then months, then even years following the earthquake, that strategy only caused NGOs to compete with the daily organic business transactions that are the backbone of Haiti’s market-based economy.

Despite the prevalence of existing models of aid in Haiti—alarmingly the country with the second highest number of NGOs per capita in the world—and vast amounts of aid poured into the country in recent decades, Haiti has always been, and still remains, a market-based economy in which businesses intend to meet consumer demand with quality products.

Having grown up in Haiti and living there now, I feel deeply connected to the climate, the culture, and the livelihoods of my own family and those around me. Yet, after experiencing other cultures and contexts from my own perspective, I want to help change the way people view my country; I want to reduce the gap in perception between what people see and how Haiti really is.

Haiti’s real problem is not the absence of an economic framework. Rather, it is the continued disregard of the one structure in the country capable of bringing about real, lasting, and sustainable growth: Haiti’s existing market-based system.

Surely, Haiti has a purchasing power problem. Many people today do not have the means to buy what they need to live, grow, and thrive. Yet the key way to solve this problem is through viable sustainable employment. And the best way to create real employment is through sustainable, viable, and profitable business opportunities.

In this book, I, along with my colleague Jacqueline Klamer, propose a new model. Foreign aid needs to align itself with the market-based economy in which it operates to create jobs and truly have sustainable impact.

Through interviewing dozens of business owners, we found stories of Haitian businesspeople and NGOs partnering through trade to strengthen the Haitian economy and ensure the dignity and self-sustainability of Haitian society for the benefit of all.

It is easy to catalog Haiti’s long list of problems: poor infrastructure, weak governance, corruption, lack of education, a culture resistant to western approaches. These observations abound.

But there are also underlying human needs: a mother needs to feed her children; a family needs to care for themselves and their neighbors; people need jobs.

These are real problems. And these are real opportunities for Haiti today.

In the course of writing this book, we realized that our findings reflect not only our two viewpoints, but also that of many others. In addition to interviewing the dozens of business owners and workers you’ll find in the case studies, we surveyed over twelve hundred Haitians and internationals in the field. We also included our own personal experiences in Haiti, as well as insights from a broad network of businesspeople, investors, community leaders, government representatives, and development professionals who share this vision for Haiti’s future.

The message is simple: Anyone who truly desires to help Haiti must realign their strategy to help create legal, profitable business opportunities in the country. For example, a nonprofit organization might advocate against

corruption, or a lending institution might provide affordable access to credit for small businesses. An NGO might equip business owners through training, or a business association might connect Haitian companies with investors. An orphanage manager might intentionally serve healthy meals sourced by local farmers instead of cheap, donated imports, or a representative in parliament might work to enact economic policies that favor business growth. Each of these strategies align with Haiti’s market-based system and can help create an environment in which Haitian businesses drive the development of the economy and its impacts on broader society.

This book is not an attempt to offer an unproven theory to be read and placed on a shelf. Instead, we invite all actors to embrace market solutions to Haiti’s myriad challenges. We need to stop distorting Haiti’s market-based system, and instead build on its emerging opportunities to enable the sustainable growth Haiti so desperately needs.

To clarify, we aren’t simply presenting import substitution or social enterprise as miraculous solutions for the current situation. We are also not promoting consumerism as the sole means to development—though we recognize that people should have the opportunity to choose the products that are best suited to meet their families’ needs at the right price, whether the products are imported or not.

What we do hope you find is that, in the midst of today’s challenges, Haitians continue to transact each day—from purchasing a meal from a street-corner vendor, to producing smart phones and tablets to sell locally and for export.

The power of transactions in Haiti’s market economy must not be underestimated.

We should not ignore—no, cannot ignore—the strengths, the innovation, the entrepreneurship, and the endurance that Haiti and her people have to offer.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti
July 2015