Invasion or Infusion ? Understanding the Role of NGOs in Contemporary Haiti

Invasion or Infusion ? Understanding the Role of NGOs in Contemporary Haiti

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Mark Schuller - Universityof California, Santa Barbara

It is impossible to discuss development in Haiti without talking about nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Currently, most grant aid to Haiti is directed to one of more than 300 officially recognized NGOs. Given this, a critical understanding and evaluation of NGOs is essential; however, there have been very few scholarly articles published which specifically examine them.1 Despite a paucity of scholarship on NGOs in Haiti, they are being discussed and debated within certain circles in the country, and several methods for evaluating and understanding NGOs have been proposed. Two studies of NGOs have particular significance because of their scope and institutional location.2 The World Bank published “Haiti: NGO Sector Study” in March 1997, around the same time that the Centre de Recherche Sociale et de Formation Economique pour le Développement (CRESFED) published “Haïti: Invasion des ONG.” The former valorized NGOs and referred to the funds channeled through NGOs as an “infusion,” while the latter was critical of NGOs, calling their apparently sudden appearance and role an “invasion.” While there have been studies before and since,3 these two set the tone for discourse and policies in Haiti from 1997 to the present, defining two distinct orientations.

Which is correct? Are NGOs “good” or “bad” for Haiti’s development? Are they closer to Haiti’s people and less corrupt than the government, or are they tools of foreign imperialism? Should Haitian people—either living in Haiti or in the “tenth province” (now “eleventh”4)—support NGOs? Should blan concerned about democracy and Haiti’s development support NGOs? If so, which NGOs should be supported? Are NGOs the solution to Haiti’s poverty, exclusion, and centralization, or are they part of the problem? More importantly, how can we make or evaluate such claims?

This article attempts to provide a framework for addressing these larger, admittedly polemical questions. To begin to answer these questions requires a clear definition and conception of NGOs…


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The Haitian Resource Development Foundation prioritizes programs that enable and empower various Haitian locales to further personal and collective independence. Engaging in a range of programs over 20 years, the HRDF continues a commitment to providing measurable results for program beneficiaries and program benefactors. Working with multiple international partners from North America and Europe, the HRDF is committed to fundamental improvements in Haitian villages to ensure greater economic vitality in the near future.