by Brittany Shutts
The earthquake that devastated Haiti in January, 2010 resulted in a complicated set of challenges for a country already suffering from economic and political instability. Heather Burns, founder of the GreenScene blogs and a Connecticut resident, recognized a unique opportunity to apply sustainable solutions on a local level. Haiti Onward applies a similar approach to the GreenScene blogs, catalyzing a “collaboration based on principles and place,” but on a grander scale. Haiti Onward brings together 15 organizations and local stakeholders to efficiently resolve many of Haiti’s economic, environmental, and social challenges.
The initiative was recently nominated as a semi-finalist in the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for contributing a local solution to a global problem that can be replicated in other communities.
I spoke with her at length about the project.
What is Haiti Onward?
Moving beyond the 'one organization' development model, Haiti Onward brings together 15 Haitian and international organizations dedicated to delivering holistic and sustainable solutions that develop economically viable and scalable sustainability solutions. Haiti Onward’s collaborative design platform engages leading organizations and local stakeholders to yield community- and place-based outcomes informed by ecological, anthropological and climate change data from world-renowned scientists and researchers.
What inspired you to get involved in Haiti Onward?
In 2007, I sat down at my desk - which at that time was located in my laundry room and sandwiched between my washer and dryer - to post the first article on CT GreenScene. It was my intent, to use the newly emerging art of blogging as a platform to tell the world about the big impact small Connecticut-based companies and organizations were having on creating a more sustainable planet. The isolated reality of blogging led me to hold sustainable networking events to bring people together face-to-face to share information and inspiration. The events grew organically over a 2-year period and many who attended were connecting to each other at events and collaborating on projects and initiatives of their own. As the Green Scene network grew and expanded outside of Connecticut, I began to look more closely at what makes collaboration successful. Haiti Onward takes this exploration to the next level.
What problem does it seek to solve?
There are some 10,000 NGOs working in Haiti right now, most situated in Port-au-Prince since the devastating earthquake in 2010. While many of these NGOs mean well and are doing great work, there is no question that inefficiencies, redundancies and ineffectiveness are inherent in such a situation. After the earthquake the Haitian government, already plagued by corruption and lack of capacity, was crippled, so the slew of NGOs in Haiti lack coordination at a high level and run the risk of wasting their resources and of being ineffectual. The HO collaborative is made of organizations - both for profit and not for profit - that share in the principles of sustainability and social justice, but each partner organization brings its own area of expertise and knowledge base to the collective whole - and by sharing these best practices that are Haiti-specific, we believe we'll be successful where others - working in the traditional, silo-ed method - have failed.
What is the vision of Haiti Onward?
Haiti Onward has a bold vision - to work collaboratively to create a new, non-overlapping collaboration model and design platform - which HO partners have a hand in building - that enables grassroots organizations and smaller NGOs working on the ground in Haiti to play a supportive role toward a larger vision, while realizing the collective intelligence and energy of the collaborative.
We're thrilled to be recognized as a semi-finalist in the the Buckminster Fuller Challenge - which awards innovative solutions to the world's most complex problems. We should know in a few weeks if we're a finalist. We're also thrilled to be working with Haiti Onward partner, actress Patricia Arquette and her organization GiveLove, to create an eco-Luxury event at Trump Parc Stamford in September. The event will raise funds and awareness for HaitiOnward and GiveLove's eco-sanitation project.
Contact Heather Burns if you are interested in getting involved with this dynamic project. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-470-8020.