From Relief to Reconstruction — Practical and Policy Challenges

04/21/2010
12:00 PM
Wong Auditorium

Raymond Offenheiser, President, Oxfam America

Description: As the United Nations and worldwide NGOs face the challenges of providing basic services to the survivors of the January 2010 Haitian earthquake, Oxfam's Raymond Offenheiser scrutinizes what will ultimately be "crucial to the outcome, in the Haitian context, of a successful recovery and rehabilitation by the Haitian people and for the Haitian nation-distributed leadership."

He describes the overwhelming levels of destruction and suffering he witnessed in the weeks just after the quake. The numbers are hard to imagine-4000 schools compromised or destroyed, children orphaned, 100,000 amputees in a country where annual health care spending is $100/year/person, and the approach of the rainy season. Offenheiser goes on to explain the intricate humanitarian response that unfolds in the aftermath of any natural disaster involving the UN, world governments, and NGOs in their efforts to coordinate the recovery.

The quake destroyed most of the government's physical infrastructure in Port au Prince where Ministry buildings lie in ruins and where untold numbers of government officials and civil servants were killed. Leadership is currently distributed over large numbers of organizations, rescue personnel from many nations, and people from all walks of Haitian life. Offenheiser asserts that "even if the government were intact, it would not have the capacity to deal with the enormity of the catastrophe and emergency it faces."

Using anecdotes from three survivors of the earthquake, Offenheiser describes how seemingly ordinary citizens can become leaders in a crisis. In one example, he illustrates how an individual created a "Cash-for-Work" program, which allowed displaced residents to be paid for putting together much-needed "Family Kits." The kits could have been bought ready-made and easily distributed to refugee camps. Instead, the component parts were purchased and assembled. The Oxfam employee had the autonomy to make this decision; the refugees had money that would go back into their local economy and the dignity of having earned a salary for themselves and their families. "You can't teach that kind of leadership, but you can distribute it."

Offenheiser observes that resolving the larger questions of Haiti's long-term future also lies in an 18-month multinational plan for reconstruction. This plan includes the involvement of Haitians and non Haitians that will form the core of a future Haitian development authority. In keeping with Oxfam's own philosophy, Offenheiser affirms that "we believe that the solution always lies with the people who face these challenges. Our job isn't to fix their problems for them, but rather to help governments and citizens meet and define their own development needs. In Haiti, that's going to mean working alongside the government, enabling the nation to take ownership of its own future. It means, ultimately, empowering the Haitian people. In other words, it means being a long-term partner in locally driven recovery and building efforts."

Host(s): Sloan School of Management

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