In 2010 an earthquake devastated Haiti and left nearly 3 million people in need.
World Renew responded, providing food, housing, and other types of assistance.
In the process, World Renew also helped to enhance and grow the economy for those affected by the storm, said Daniel Jean-Louis, a Haitian man who coauthored a new book, From Aid to Trade, with Jacqueline Klamer.
“I am amazed and very inspired by World Renew and how it is very intentional about its relief and development work and how it purchases materials and seeks help locally to do the work after a disaster,” said Jean-Louis.
“In my book, I try to convince other non-government organizations that the approach World Renew and other organizations such as Partners Worldwide take should be a model for how aid is provided.”
Both World Renew and Partners Worldwide are featured in the book, which is subtitled How Aid Organizations, Businesses, and Governments Can Work Together: Lessons Learned from Haiti.
Working hand-in-hand with local businesses to rebuild and restore lives and infrastructure following a disaster is the best approach, said Jean-Louis, but this has not been the common way most organizations have provided aid.
“In the wake of the 2010 earthquake, many aid organizations rushed to Haiti to provide hunger relief,” write Jean-Louis and Klamer in the book.
“But once the earthquake crisis was over, many failed to make the transition from aid to trade and development. As a result, not only did many children become dependent on aid to survive, but many of their parents fell into poverty and dependency.”
Aid organizations, he said, were buying barge-loads of food from foreign sources instead of partnering with Haitian farmers who were already in their fields producing food. Aid organizations were also purchasing building materials from overseas and shipping them to Haiti.
World Renew took a different approach, the book says. World Renew joined with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to make “sure that the food it distributed to communities in Haiti was purchased from local farmers and producers.”
And to help provide transitional housing for thousands of people, said Jean-Louis, World Renew connected with Maxima, a company that had been working in Haiti for many years.
"Working hand-in-hand with local businesses to rebuild and restore lives and infrastructure following a disaster is the best approach."
Contracting with Maxima to provide materials and labor, World Renew was able to provide hundreds of local jobs for workers, who built 2,500 homes for earthquake survivors.
“Organizations such as World Renew that made contracting locally a priority were able to maximize their economic effect,” said Jean-Louis.
The book also details the flip side to disaster response. It explains, for example, how after the earthquake some American pastors asked their congregations to gather 28,000 jars of peanut butter, each with a quarter taped to the lid to cover the cost of shipping.
When it found out about this effort, Partners Worldwide joined with businesspeople and others to stop the well-intentioned initiative and asked aid organizations to instead buy peanut butter locally in Haiti.
Dave Genzink, who works with Partners Worldwide, said various aid efforts caused many Haitians to lose their livelihoods after the hurricane.
“Many products being imported were already being made in Haiti, and local producers found themselves laying off employees and in some cases closing their doors, since a for-profit business cannot compete with something that is free,” he said, adding that the same also happened to companies making vaccines, soap, backpacks, and many other items.
When Hurricane Matthew slammed into southwestern Haiti and caused widespread devastation this past October, Jean-Louis said he was worried that many aid organizations would resort to their familiar patterns.
But that hasn’t happened. Over the past few years, he and others have been speaking at conferences and churches and meeting with individual organizations to explain the importance of buying locally. That message seems to have caught on.
Following Hurricane Matthew, aid organizations have turned to local businesses in Haiti, for instance, to buy drones to survey hurricane damage, and to buy touch-screen tablets for their employees to use as they work to determine and carry out responses. Aid organizations are also turning to a business in Port-au-Prince to purchase relief boxes for survivors.
Jean-Louis said that he’d expected some organizations to change their methods—“but not at the level we are seeing. I am encouraged to see that they are able to apply this message and make it their own.”
In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, World Renew is once again busy in Haiti providing disaster response assistance and working to find ways to connect with partner organizations to use local goods and services in the effort to rebuild.
“In the immediate response to Hurricane Matthew, World Renew provided food, tarps, and other emergency supplies, which were all purchased locally,” said Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo, World Renew co-director.
“As the process for rehabilitation gets under way, we will continue to purchase all supplies locally and maximize the involvement of local leaders in prioritizing needs. In this way, communities can not only overcome the current disaster but also grow their local economy and increase their abilities for long-term development.”