The poverty-stricken Caribbean country of Haiti faces intense challenges. A World Bank report in 2014 states that Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world. Its problems were exacerbated by the devastating earthquake in 2010.
But the government appears to be making genuine efforts to bring about positive change and has even enlisted the help of a US business school. MIT Sloan has been working with the Haitian government and its educators as part of an initiative to tackle economic regeneration, poverty and the modernisation of education.
Deborah Ancona, professor of management at MIT Sloan and director of MIT’s leadership centre, recently ran a leadership workshop for more than 55 members of Haiti’s government, including Laurent Lamothe, the prime minister.
“I was extraordinarily impressed by the officials’ passion and dedication to Haiti,” says Prof Ancona, who ran the two-and-a-half day leadership training workshop in Port-au-Prince.
“I give credit to the prime minister,” she adds, saying she ran the workshop as if all the participants were equals. Mr Lamothe participated fully, she says.
Prof Ancona adds the workshop not only aimed to help participants discover their unique way of leading, but was also to help them practise their leadership
skills and to reinforce cross-ministry connections.
“We’ve done work with government officials elsewhere in the world,” says Prof Ancona. “But this was somewhat revolutionary. It was revolutionary for both Haiti and the Sloan school.”
Recently, overseas observers of Haiti’s political scene have tended to focus on Michel Martelly, the Caribbean nation’s controversial president, and his mandate for political power. Mr Martelly, who came to power in May 2011, was previously one of Haiti’s most popular musicians – as famous for his provocative stage performances as his vocal stance against the former president, Jean-Bertrand Aritistide. Since his election, President Martelly has been criticised by groups such as Human Rights Watch for failures that have contributed to anti-government protests.
MIT Sloan’s involvement with Haiti grew out of an initiative launched by Michel DeGraff, an MIT professor of linguistics, who was concerned about the language used in tuition in Haiti. He was in talks on how to promote Haitian Creole to encourage deeper learning when the country was hit by the earthquake. The enormity of the event galvanised him into action.
He managed to interest MIT in rolling out an active learning programme for Haitian teachers and lecturers in Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In November 2013 three officials from the country’s cabinet came to the US to participate in a leadership training workshop at MIT Sloan. Then in April 2014, the prime minister asked if Sloan could bring a leadership programme to Haiti.
Mr Lamothe is grateful to MIT for its help in modernising Haiti’s educational system.
“Developing countries need to think out of the box and innovate to move quickly on economic, social, cultural and educational reforms,” he says.
“This course has us partnering with one of the top universities in the world to bring new leadership and team practices into the government of Haiti.” The MIT programme has given the government a “new language of leadership”, he adds.
Prof Ancona is also positive about the workshop. “It was an amazing experience. I did enjoy it. I’ve been intrigued and impressed from day one by these people who are taking on this task in Haiti,” she says.