The place of Haitian organizations in local development:
Issues, Challenges and Perspectives
by Patrick Delorme and Stephane Grandvaux
The associative movement of endogenous development in Haiti came into existence shortly after the departure of the Duvalier in 1986. According to the International Development Agency of the United States (USAID, 2009), the first local development initiatives were initiated in the early 1990’s. For us, local development in Haiti during the last 25 years has always been synonymous with short or medium-term projects, implemented - more often than not - under the direction of international donors. As a result, a culture of dependency was gradually established thereby inhibiting any initiatives seeking to respond to genuine local needs.
In this paper, we do not intend to criticize local development organizations in Haiti nor have the pretention to propose ready-made solutions. Our goal is rather to relate some of the issues and challenges local organizations are facing and thus open the way for a constructive conversation in which we hope to unearth new perspectives and solutions toward a more viable and sustainable local development.
The main issues and challenges facing local organizations
The disadvantages, challenges or inadequacies often associated with local organizations are among others:
Limited vision and objectives resulting in a gap between potential and impact;
Limited capacity for far reaching actions in the public sphere;
Lack of leadership preventing at times a genuine participatory approach;
Lack of material resources, particularly internal resources;
Low capacity in regards to external relations, in particular when dealing with larger and more affluent institutions.
Another great challenge facing local Haitian organisations is funding. Even if the 1987 constitution speaks of development of local communities, the state does not support to our knowledge, local or community initiatives led by the civil society. Thus, in a context in which organisation’s members (founders and others) are very often volunteers, one can understand the legitimate tendency of local organizations to turn to international development assistance.
Structuring is another issue that deserves to be highlighted. Local organizations in Haiti are generally characterized by their structural weaknesses. Why? Because most often the strategic documents defining their mission, vision and other policies as well as the financial and accounting procedures, operating manuals, skilled human resources are lacking or incomplete. It is for this reason that potential foreign partners very often refer to the problem of "weak governance" with regard to local organizations. The negotiating capacity of local organizations is therefore reduced from the onset. The imbalance in the power relations between local organisations and international partners becomes a major challenge, as foreign interlocutors tend to perceive them as a weak link.
Arising from these structuring issues, the lack of confidence is yet another challenge that needs to be overcome. Yet, when one talks about collaboration or partnership, one should also talk of confidence and trust between two parties, ensuring a transparent and open dialog in which both partners are regarded as equal contributors. This is unfortunately not always the case. The international partner is often regarded as "the expert" and the local partner as "the empty vessels" whose contribution is limited to the mechanical implementation of the project. Rather than strengthening collaboration, this situation creates frustrations, tensions and at times a feeling of rejection.
In this state of affairs, local organisations have their hands tied and no real choice but to accept to act in accordance to the requirements of international partners through short or medium-term cosmetic interventions and one-off projects. A great part of the development sector is governed by annual reports and three years project cycles, which is well away from the time required to achieve transformative change. Thus, genuine local problems often remain unsolved. Local participation is reduced to nil. Long term, sustainable local development remains just a wishful thinking.
How the relations between partners could be redefined?
Firstly, it is necessary to look at things differently. Recognizing Haiti’s potential should be the first step of a new approach. Looking at Haiti from a perspective of opportunities reveals not a country of victims and passive recipients of international aid, but rather a country and a people with major strengths and a true potential.
When organisations are not externally catalysed or are led entirely by people from the same communities they serve, they will more likely remain in those communities, working on these issues, long after international actors have left. When grassroot organisations spring from existing, lasting, and mutual relationships, their staff and volunteers often know the people they serve on a one-on-one basis, resulting in a personal stake and a long-term commitment to the success of their efforts.
Of course, not all local NGOs are created alike, nor are all funders. Grant-making of any size can create or reinforce dependency relationships, as well as perpetuate, rather than challenge, existing power structures.
What could be some of the potential solutions to redefine the rules of engagement?
For the local organisation:
Increase community involvement and participation:
The quality of local community led actions can only be guaranteed if it is the result of a conscious, organized and methodical mobilization of actors around objectives that are consensually designed.
Establish consultation mechanisms ensuring a dialog between local actors:
The establishment of networks and coordination between local actors helps to stimulate the sharing of information, the collective evaluation of progress, to define set of common objectives and to carry out concerted activities. It also presents the advantage of being able to share resources and expertise without always having recourse to external assistance, which is expensive and often not adapted.
For the international partners:
International partners must revise their form of assistance in order to grant more decision-making power to local citizens, better opportunities to Haitian organizations and a greater role in the definition of development policies to NGOs and local authorities.
One can say that although international organisations may have some spaces to engage in alternatives to development, these spaces remain restricted. To open these, it is inevitable that project logic, with its focus on efficiency and quick and measurable (quantitative) results is abandoned in favour of more flexible and progressive ways of engagement.
New principles of partnership need to be established in order to facilitate positive results for INGOs partnering with local NGOs. Participating organizations should agree to base their partnership on principles of:
Equality - requiring mutual respect between members of the partnership in regards to their mandates, obligations and independence and recognizing each other’s constraints and commitments;
Transparency – which is achieved through dialogue with an emphasis on early consultations and information sharing;
Long term oriented approach – which must be based on support and capacity transfer, which is both concrete and adapted to the context of intervention;
Shared responsibility - humanitarian organizations have an ethical obligation to work responsibly, with integrity and in a relevant and appropriate way. The success and failure of one partner must be the success and failure of the other;
Complementarity – valuing the diversity of the humanitarian community and striving to work with local capacity to enhance and complement contributions from partnering organizations.
A true local development cannot and should not be done without the effective participation of local citizens in the decision-making process. It would also be absurd to think of development without international exchanges particularly in this context of globalization. However, basic principles should guide these partnerships and be respected if we want to see real change.
To support local organizations and local authorities is to foster local population’s involvement in development, both at the local and national level. It is to work for a better governance, for a more participatory form of development and therefore closer to the communities. Civil society organizations provide a real added value due to their proximity with the local communities and their greater flexibility in the implementation of the development actions.
It is time to make room at the table for more local organisations that hold great promise and potential. It has become necessary to demonstrate what can be done when trusting and lasting relationships are built with the people leading the change.