August 10, 2015
Many businesses understand the importance of giving back to their communities; research has shown that in order to earn trust in the communities where we work, corporations should start by doing “good business” that has a positive societal impact. But there’s more we can and should do to ensure that our efforts have a lasting effect.
The role of corporate citizenship is of utmost importance in emerging economies where resources are scarce and extreme poverty has created an urgent need for initiatives and partnerships that can improve the well-being of local people. This need is even more pronounced in countries like Haiti that have suffered extreme devastation. The massive earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in 2010 — a disaster that killed more than 200,000 people, left 1.5 million homeless, and damaged or destroyed 4,000 schools — created both an urgent need for immediate foreign assistance and a recognition that the effort to rebuild devastated communities and the Haitian economy would take years. While much work remains to be done, I can report that significant progress has been made.
Paradis des Indiens, a Digicel Foundation Haiti grantee, is a small local organization whose efforts to improve education in Haiti’s Grande Anse region offer lessons for all corporate sustainability funders. Using a community-service model, the organization engages children in school improvement projects and volunteer work. Children are encouraged to play an integral role in these projects and, through their participation, develop both a deeper sense of pride in and a sense of responsibility for their communities, which, in turn, inspires a greater commitment among them to rebuilding Haiti itself. While this kind of involvement in community service isn’t typical in developing countries, the impressive ability of Paradis des Indiens to instill a sense of pride and ownership in children is a perfect illustration of how a focus on empowering community members can lead to successful and sustainable projects over the longer term.