Lessons Learned for Host Country Engagement in a Rapidly Changing World: Haiti’s Story
In Haiti, civil unrest, political instability, and inconsistent, external funding from nonprofits and other states have contributed to a quickly changing environment rife with turnover. Haiti is home to roughly half a million vulnerable youth outside of the education system who abandoned school, never started school, or are disabled. USAID Education Officers know they have to work with host country stakeholders to find sustainable solutions to such endemic challenges. This task is made particularly difficult in Haiti’s constantly shifting environment.
We recently spoke with Tamara Jacques, an Education Program Advisor in Haiti, about the challenges that Haiti faces at the governmental level as well as within their education system. She shared that after receiving an outpouring of financial resources in 2010 to support earthquake recovery efforts, there was a consequent lull in additional international funding and support. Additionally, two prime ministers have resigned in the past two years, causing political uncertainty and feeding popular mistrust of government. Future plans for the Ministry of Education are up in the air until a government is firmly in power. The previous President had at least three education ministers, each with their own interests, which swayed depending on their leadership’s interest and focus.
To adjust, the USAID team in Haiti has developed some new approaches to host-country engagement in order to drive success for students participating in Haiti’s Early Grade Reading Project, a program implemented by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).
- Identify opportunities to create short-term wins to quickly build relationships with the ministry. The program managers in Haiti learned that the people they built trust with were often not in their positions long enough to carry out plans, such as new curriculum implementation with teachers. Therefore, they have sought to make gains in Haiti’s education through short-term activities, like the Summer Remediation Program, which was a three-week pilot in the summer of 2018 that increased 60% of struggling students’ reading performance by one level and 25% of struggling students by two levels. This short activity laid the groundwork and foundation for trust within the Ministry of Education for USAID to roll out a program for the following school year.
- Invest sufficient time to explain USAID processes to governmental stakeholders and other partners while reinforcing the benefits of USAID programs. In countries like Haiti where there is a constant stream of NGOs and volunteers, it can be easy for local residents and leaders to be skeptical of USAID’s value. Tamara pointed out the need to consistently differentiate USAID from other donors and supporters in the area. USAID’s history of a long-term collaborative presence in host countries was an important differentiator. Moreover, due to the overwhelming support that arrived after the 2010 earthquake, USAID has to establish itself as a stable partner, intent on laying the groundwork for quality literacy teaching and learning that Haiti can support beyond the end of the program, which is slated to end in 2020.
- Partner with key individuals and leaders who have long-standing relationships in Haiti and are highly respected by the ministry. Even as directors and leaders within the Ministry of Education changed, USAID was able to gain insights and communicate with the Ministry by nurturing and maintaining relationships with former technical directors and trusted cabinet members who had since been promoted or transferred to other departments. Former directors could often inform USAID of an informal process that helped eliminate guesswork.
A Systematic Review of Early Grade Reading in Latin America and the Caribbean
Working in a rapidly changing environment in a developing country with limited resources requires creativity and patience. By engaging strategically with a wide range of stakeholders, USAID is poised for improved outcomes as it prepares to begin another school year.