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FaraiToday Exclusive: 2011 Clinton Global Initiative Coverage In New York City!

Filed under : Africa

From New York City Contributor, Demi Ajayi comes this….

Hello all!

The fun never ends here in New York!

As the designers headed out of New York City this weekend, the dignitaries have marched in to take their place for the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly and related events. We were LIVE at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, which since its inception, runs concurrently with the UN General Assembly meeting.

This leadership forum brings together global leaders in politics, business, media and humanitarian work to plan out solutions for pressing global issues (and Lord knows there are many!).

On Monday, I attended a special inaugural Clinton Global Initiative Haiti Investment Workshop moderated by President William Clinton himself, featuring President Michel Martelly of Haiti; Luis Alberto Moreno, President of Inter-American Development Bank (IADB); Denis O’Brien, Chairman of Digicel Group; Woong-Ki Kim, Chairman of Sae-A Trading Company and Magalie Dresse, Owner of Caribbean Craft.

Addressing an audience of business investors, panelists spoke of best practices, successes in post-earthquake Haiti, and opportunities for growth and investment. The experience was incredibly informative and inspiring.

President Clinton kicked the event off, emphasizing the emerging importance of a shift from disaster relief to investment in the economic infrastructure of Haiti for sustainable development. He also recognized CGI members and other business leaders who have been building business partnerships in Haiti.

Thanks to new partnerships, Haitian artisans have been able to expand their business to new international retailers including Macys, West Elm, Restoration Hardware, and Donna Karan. Love these retailers! Especially West Elm. [Sidebar: I just got some pillows from them made through by one of these artisan groups. Really glad to know they are legit!]

President Clinton gave a special shout out to Cheryl Mills of the State Department (Black Girls Rock!) for her dogged work and Donna Karan, who was in the audience, and has been working tirelessly on Haiti through her foundation Urban Zen.

President Clinton had this to say about Donna Karan:

“I can’t say enough about Donna Karan. She’s been my friend for 20 years, and she makes me look like I am passive about my passion for Haiti. “

Anyone that can make President Clinton look passive is definitely doing alright by me. It was very refreshing to see people not only doing well but doing GOOD.

President Clinton then introduced President Michel Martelly, the President of Haiti:

“This man will make a decision, and so far the decisions have been good and pointed in the direction of more jobs, more kids in school, …  and we should help him succeed.”

President Martelly, then gave his opening remarks, discussing the devastation of the 2010 earthquake: $30 billion in damages, 30% of buildings destroyed, 1.5 Million people displaced.

President Martelly acknowledged that the international community responded with “unprecedented support,” giving over $10 billion in multilateral and bilateral aid, though only 37% has been disbursed to local institutions so far.

As I heard in the Disaster Preparedness session, the slow pace of aid disbursement is a big source of frustration to organizations on the ground. President Martelly hopes to make greater strides in the private sector, launching his “Haiti is Open For Business” Initiative. Rebranding Haiti is high on President Martelly’s agenda, and per some of ignorant comments I’ve seen on news articles about Haiti (trolls be trolling tho!), it’s quite necessary. President Martelly said he would like to “build a society worthy of its people”, and represent the strength of his nation.

To encourage business growth, President Martelly is launching two bills to reduce the required time for registering a business and obtaining business permits. Towards education, the government of Haiti plans to subsidize the primary education of some  772,000 students and open a state university and vocational school.

Led by President Clinton, panelists went on to discuss issues related to agriculture, manufacturing, alternative energy, and tourism. Coca-Cola is working with Haitian mango producers, with their subsidiary Odwalla (as I later researched, though some mango-flavored Sprite might not be a bad idea).

Currently, Haiti imports most of its food (largely from the US), so President Martelly’s move to agricultural development is necessary. It will be interesting to see how that works out as far as import-export trade agreements go.

Magalie Dresse, owner of Carribean Craft, a fair trade manufacturer, spoke of her business’ growing success, thanks in part to Aid to Artisans which provided partnerships with companies such as Anthropologee. Denis O’Brien, of Digicell, the largest telecommunication operator in the Caribbean, spoke about moving its’ French Speaking Customer Care Center entirely to Haiti.

Watch out China!

It was really interesting to hear about Sae-A Trading Company, a leading South Korean apparel manufacturing company moving into Haiti. The company is building the North Industrial Park (in partnership with the government of the US and Haiti) that will house their factory, provide additional housing for 5,000 workers and stands to employ about 20,000 new workers according to their figures. When asked by President Clinton about the rationale behind this expansion, Chairman Woong-Ki Kim stated (through his translator) that Haiti had three  advantages:

1) It’s proximity to the U.S, increasing the speed to market of products

2) Abundant and motivated labor supply

3) Haiti’s preferential duty free export trade agreement with the US for apparel (Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act).

Apparel has been Haiti’s greatest export, with the U.S being her number one trading partner. So textile manufacturing here is nothing new as a vehicle of profit generation and has been more-over mired with a controversial legacy of sub-minimum wages for garment workers. I was first excited, then cautious about this given the history of apparel in Haiti. I found out that this new initiative is slated to employ garment workers with salaries 3-4 times greater than the per capita GDP. This at least, was reassuring.

Overall, I pray that these new partnerships which will provide many new jobs. And actually benefit the individual citizens of Haiti. As “cheap labor” is only cheap for the employer, and definitely costly to the employed. According to IADB President Alberto Moreno, Latin America is also taking the lead in business partnerships with Haiti. Further, a fiber optics company is also seeking to set up shop there.

Alternative Energy

President Clinton also pushed for exploration of biodiesel in the country. Electricity costs are prohibitive to manufacturing, being the highest in the Caribbean, and the Caribbean having the highest in the world, according to President Clinton. Moreno and President Clinton spoke about the potential of harnessing sugar cane (used in Haiti mainly by rum manufacturers) for energy use, as is being done in Brazil.

President Martelly pushed for greater tourism, jokingly citing La Citadelle Laferrière as the 7th wonder of the world. Well, maybe not the 7th… or the 8th at that, but this fortress built during Haiti’s slave rebellion to protect against attacks from France, was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and is definitely a place to visit. President Martelly definitely talked up Haiti, saying;

“I should stand up,”

-and then he did-

“and tell you. Haiti is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.”

His descriptions of the virgin beaches and great potential of Haiti definitely had me ready to pack my bags.

This event was incredible; learning about the good work going on there was quite encouraging. Further, taking a step back to think about the wider implications of new business ventures there, is also needed. Haiti has had such a complicated and fascinating history, (definitely read up if you’re interested) forging the right path to economic success for Haiti will be paramount.

So to my world travelers, change-makers, business men and women…

Haiti is ready for you!


Follow me on Twitter @demimoiselle!

farai – who has written posts on Farai Today.

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