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The desperate work to save lives and distribute the essentials of survival in Haiti continues. But Haitians and international donors will soon ask what to do next. The world will rush in, with megaprojects and cure-alls. Governments ought also to get creative, tapping one of the greatest resources available to assist in the reconstruction: the Haitian diaspora.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been pledged to Haiti, while more than 10,000 NGOs operate in the country. There is no shortage of good intentions, and resources are increasingly available. But there is little memory of past, failed aid plans, and not enough private capital or local expertise to put the aid to its best use.

Enter Haitians abroad. They live in New York and New Jersey, Boston and Miami, France and the Caribbean. More than 100,000 live in Montreal. Host nations have benefited from their skills, while Haiti lost many of its best people.

But expatriates do keep a toehold in Haiti, through property, family, remittance income (around 20 per cent of GDP) and hometown associations that may already be running development projects. If they get still more involved, they can contribute in a way that well-meaning outsiders never can, speaking Creole rather than French, building companies instead of just doling out grants.

So how can they be helped?

The remittance economy could be diversified. Special state bonds could be sold through Western Union offices, so that cash being generated in richer countries can be used not only to keep families afloat, but assist with the country's redevelopment.

There could be more private sector incentives. The U.S. Agency for International Development has partnered with a local foundation to help diaspora entrepreneurs start businesses in Haiti. It is small: $2-million (U.S.) for 20 small businesses; but it may be a model for the Canadian International Development Agency to consider. CIDA could also match and help co-ordinate micro-loans offered by expatriates.

Cash and flexible workplace policies could be used to provide leaves or training for Haitian-born professionals who want to serve for a time in Haiti, say, as doctors or government accountants.

Haiti, too, can do more, especially in government and political life. A 2007 International Crisis Group report called for a 10-year diaspora plan, including the right to vote for Haitians abroad, and efforts to recruit émigrés to fill senior roles in the bureaucracy.

Haitians abroad have a tremendous capacity and overwhelming desire to help their home country in its time of need. Governments should help them make the most of their contributions.

 

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