Submitted by Paul Weisenfeld

USAID's Haiti Task Team Coordinator Paul Weisenfeld discussed opportunities for minority business owners to get involved in Haiti's reconstruction effort. Photo Credit: Ben Edwards

As the U.S. Government works closely with the Government and people of Haiti to rebuild their country, we’re seeing encouraging signs of progress that reflect the resilience of the Haitian people.  For example, together with the Haitian Government and the international community, we’ve removed over 881,000 cubic meters of rubble through programs including cash-for-work and vaccinated over 1 million people against highly contagious diseases like polio.  But we remain realistic about the magnitude of the challenges facing the earthquake-ravaged country – over 1.6 million displaced Haitians and millions of cubic meters of rubble remain.  The U.S. Government is committed to staying with the Haitian people to face these challenges together and build back better.

I was pleased to share this message with a diverse group of minority business owners at the 2010 Minority Enterprise Development Week Conference in Washington D.C.   Partnering with minority-owned businesses is a priority for USAID.  The energy and creativity of the private sector — both U.S. and Haitian — will play a key role in the reconstruction effort.  It’s critical that we work with the Government and people of Haiti to target the four areas where U.S. reconstruction efforts are focused and we believe can have the greatest impact:

  • Increasing agricultural productivity to strengthen food and economic security
  • Improving infrastructure, including housing and electricity
  • Supporting sustainable healthcare and other basic services
  • Making strategic investments in governance, rule of law, and security

PHS, a Hatian American firm, removes rubble at the Truitier landfill in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer

One of the first contracts that USAID awarded after the earthquake was to PHS Group, a minority-owned 8(a) firm to manage a debris dump site in Port-au-Prince.   For pictures of PHS working with local Haitians to clear more than 2,000 cubic meters of rubble per-day, including rubble from USAID cash-for-work programs, click here.

The event concluded with an inspiring story from a minority business-owner who was visiting Haiti on business when the earthquake struck.  He described how he partnered with a Haitian business in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy to import 600 portable toilets at a time when sanitation posed a significant risk to Haitians.

“Yes sir, things are difficult,” he said.  “Things are challenging.  But if somebody is persistent, and if you want to work with a local Haitian partner, there is a lot of opportunity.”

He concluded: “If there is persistence, there is a way.”