Achieving economic and social stability in the face of natural disasters and other longstanding difficulties is a crucial challenge for Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and one in which more than two-thirds of workers do not have formal jobs.
In 2013, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chose RTI to lead a strategic enterprise and workforce development program for Haiti. This effort, known as Haiti Local Enterprise and Value Chain Enhancement, or Haiti LEVE, was designed to stimulate job creation by building up enterprises and strengthening value chains in three sectors:
- Apparel and textiles
By focusing on micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises in these sectors, each of which has its own opportunities and challenges, we hoped to effect long-term changes that improved the lives of Haiti’s more than 10 million citizens.
Boosting Investment and Creating Jobs through Targeted Assistance in Key Industries
The overarching mission of Haiti LEVE was to spur private-sector investment that creates jobs in the targeted sectors. We conducted in-depth assessments of each sector, identifying value chains with the highest market potential, firms that could support program initiatives, and vocational schools ready to link their offerings more directly with market needs. Once we identified opportunities, LEVE provided a mix of technical assistance, capacity development, training and cost-shared funding to address constraints and produce results.
An outstanding example is LEVE’s work in the agri-food sector. With the devaluation of the Gourde, imports are becoming more expensive for middle-class Haitians, creating an opportunity for locally sourced and produced food products such as cookies, jams, condiments, and juices. LEVE’s support to the sector—made up of a high proportion of women-owned small businesses—have improved competitiveness, leading to increased market penetration, increased sales and most importantly, increased purchases of raw materials being produced in the rural areas of Haiti. This strengthening of the value chain was accomplished through a combination of improved standards and quality, improved packaging, and improved cooperation between firms.
In Haiti’s apparel export sector, there is high potential to create jobs in the short to medium term. Under LEVE, we worked with the industry to develop favorable policies, collaborated with individual firms to address strategic and production issues, advised training providers on specific needs for supervisory and skilled-trade positions, and consulted with several privately-owned free trade zones to facilitate the entry of thousands of workers into the formal workforce.
To tap into the potential for job creation within the construction sector, LEVE focused on linking vocational training schools with private construction firms. Working with a US construction firm in northern Haiti, LEVE helped more than 80 skilled tradespeople—including masons, plumbers, and carpenters—find work on three job sites. The firm provided on-the-job training and testing, and advised a private vocational school on curriculum development. Parallel to this activity, LEVE also helped vocational schools become job placement centers by building their links with alumni and the private sector.
Also, in 2015 LEVE sponsored Haiti’s first construction trade fair. The event brought together family-owned construction businesses to share ideas and build connections, and included a “Skills Olympiad” where vocational students demonstrated their construction talents. Working with SkillsUSA and other partners, LEVE supported the organization of a second Skills Olympiad in 2017.
Building on Success through Innovation and a Focus on Sustainability
Since taking on Haiti LEVE, we have built connections and learned lessons that set the project on a path to success. The rising living standards of formally employed workers are just one example of how the targeted approach of Haiti LEVE is leading to positive change for ordinary Haitians. This partnership and other successes in the first three years of the project led USAID to extend Haiti LEVE through June 2019, providing additional funding to support our work.
We are committed to continuing our efforts toward human and institutional capacity development in this historically troubled economy. In the years ahead, we will continue to seek out innovative ideas and practices that help build Haiti’s agribusiness, apparel, and construction enterprises into sustainable industries that provide steady employment for the Haitian people, while strengthening their country’s position in the international community.