Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eight Legs and No Head

Yesterday I amused Mr. Labrousse with the quote that a committee is an animal with eight legs and no head. Today, I spend a few hours with the committee.

UCAONG is a committee under MAST (Ministry of Social Affairs and Work) that has been tasked with licensing and overseeing NGOs working in Haiti. It’s a daunting task as up until now it has been done entirely by hand, and the registration process generally takes upwards of three years. Approved organizations might be granted a ‘franchise’ – a special license to bring goods in through the ports at radically reduced rates for customs. I have a several friends here who have managed to secure a franchise, and it’s not easy.

We begin the meeting and the woman in charge gives me a complete explanation of what the group is trying to accomplish, some of the difficulties they have faced, and their current strategy. During her discourse, I realize two things: first, this is the longest speech I’ve ever listened to in Kreyol, and I’m actually understanding almost every single word, and second, the solution I have to present is nothing like what they are looking for.

UCAONG needs a software solution to track the dossiers of Haitian based NGOs seeking a direct partnership with the Haitian government through the registration, approval, and supervision process. What I have is a system to register the multitudinous small groups working independently. What we have here is a language issue. The US definition of an non-profit group is not the same as the Haitian government’s definition of a non-governmental organization. They’re tracking more what I would tend to think of as government sub-contractors, who receive license from the government to perform specific functions in an agreed upon manner. It’s more like when a state contracts with a private company to run a prison, for example, than it is like when the IRS grants a tax exemption to a charity.

It’s a very interesting morning, and I learn a lot, but at the end they send me right back to IBESR as the agency in charge of social welfare. I spend a few hours feeling very frustrated and depressed. Here I am peddling a gift that could save thousands of lives, and I’m being passed from hand to hand. After a while I snap out of it and realize this is a good thing. I already have a relationship with IBESR, they’ve seen the demonstration, and they want the project desperately. All we’ll have to do is figure out implementation and compliance assurance.

I’m exhausted, but I go back over to AUBE orphanage to spend some more time with the kids. That always perks me right up.

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