After 13 years, one week, and four days with the Pan American Development Foundation, I am moving on. As I left the office today, I had a powerful mixture of feelings. I am sad to say good-bye to so many good friends--people who have struggled with me as we fought to make changes in Haiti. I am sad to leave an institution that has an incredible potential to make an impact not just in Haiti, but throughout the hemisphere. Yet I am excited for the change and I know that I am leaving at the right time.
On January 7, 2000 I began directing a complicated program designed to help rebuild Haiti following the passage of Hurricane Georges. Yes, it had already been 15 months since the Hurricane had hit Haiti. But development work moves slowly. I accepted a twenty month position that grew into a 13 year career.
I loved the Hurricane Georges Reconstruction Program. We built roads, fixed irrigation systems, planted trees, distributed seeds, and helped the Haitian government to develop its community-based disaster management system--the one that is still in place today.
In 2003, I moved with my family from Haiti to the Dominican Republic to start a program to strengthen cross-border ties in the Haitian-Dominican borderlands. The Our Border Program grew into a powerful initiative that helped to increase investments in the border and improve relations between the two countries. I loved the team that we had and I loved how we were able to move between working with rural farmers in the borderlands and top officials in both countries.
Nothing matched the challenge that I faced when the earthquake hit. Less than 24 hours after the earthquake I crossed into Haiti and quickly took over managing our Haiti operations. The early days were overwhelming. Again, I had a wonderful team that pulled together despite incredible challenges and did unbelievable work. I know that I pushed them too hard, but there was so much that needed to be done.
In July 2010, I moved to Washington to oversee the Haiti program from Headquarters. This was a new challenge. I was no longer the boss and had to mediate between the needs of the field and the demands of those above me. We continued to do great work. We've created strong social networks in the most difficult neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. These networks have in turn helped to start businesses and develop reconstruction plans. We've repaired nearly 10,000 houses and each one was inspected by a government inspector and certified by them as safely repaired. Now we are funding larger buisnesses--those with up to $1 million in revenues a year--to create new, sustainable jobs.
I'm also proud of how I have left PADF. Ever since I moved to Washington, I have tried to work myself out of a job. By helping those around me and seeking the best possible people, I have worked hard to pass off my authority (not just responsibilities) to others. As I walk away from PADF, I leave an institution in very good hands. PADF will not replace me, but I suspect that they will miss me.
It has been a wild ride for these thirteen years. Especially in the years since the earthquake, I have made a lot of painful mistakes. Yet these mistakes seem to haunt only me. I have been deeply touched by the support that I have received from my team in both Haiti and in Washington, DC.
I am also excited by this move because I am joining a wonderful new team. I brought Kit Miyamoto to Haiti the week after the earthquake. He spent an entire month volunteering his time helping Haiti to start on the right path. We partnered together to conduct a detailed assessment of the impact of the earthquake and then to repair those 10,000 houses. Miyamoto International is a purpose driven company, dedicated to making the world a better place and to saving lives. I am thrilled to join their team. My job is to open their DC office and to help them to expand beyond Haiti. Having seen the high cost that Haiti paid for poor quality construction, I have become evangelical on the importance of improving construction quality. Miyamoto International, a California-Japanese seismic engineering company, is the perfect platform for this message.
I am sad, nervous, and excited about the change. I love what I have done with PADF and am very excited as to what I could do with Miyamoto.
Seth's new book The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? pushes us to fly towards the Sun. The question isn't "How high are you allowed to fly" or "How high do you dare to fly" but "How high WILL you fly." Seth pushes us to dare to do the hard, emotional labor of creating change. In our deeply interconnected world where anyone can reach out to anyone else, we don't need to wait to be picked. We can take the initiative and create the situation that we want to create.
You can read this book one of two ways. If you read it casually, it is an easy, fun read. There are many nice little bite size chunks and many parts that don't apply to your life--"I would never stoop to putting pink slime in ground beef." Or, you can take it as a challenge. You can read it with the intent to change your life--to stop waiting to be picked and to take your own initiative.
I am a Seth Fan Boy. I've read everyone of his books. I read his blog each day. I supported this book through Kickstarter as soon as it went up. As a result of this constant bombardment of messages, I am a better person. I speak up in meetings, I dare to write this public blog, and I have become a good public speaker.
One of the things that I love about Seth is that he is quite clear on his message. If you are happy with your life or don't want to put in the hard, emotional labor to change yourself; then don't waste your time with this book. If instead you dare to reach higher--to fly towards the Sun--then Seth is a wonderful guide.
When journalists discuss the progress of reconstruction in Haiti, they frequently cite the number of people still living in tents as an indication of how much work is left to be done. In the New York Times recent article about housing, Deborah Sontag wrote:
Two and a half years after the earthquake, despite billions of dollars in reconstruction aid, the most obvious, pressing need — safe, stable housing for all displaced people — remains unmet.
She later went on to state that 390,000 people that were displaced by the earthquake remain homeless.
I do not dispute that 390,000 people still live in tents and that they live in terrible conditions. However, at least a million other people live in tin shacks in places like Cite Soliel. Their living conditions are no better than those who live in tents plus they have to pay rent for their shack.
Living conditions for Haiti’s poorest were terrible before the earthquake. Many people moved into camps not because they lost their house, but because they did not have a decent house before the earthquake. I strongly agree that one of Haiti’s most pressing needs is for safe, stable housing. I hope that this is for all of Haiti’s poor—both urban and rural—and not just for those living in tents.
Imagine a life where all your time is spent on things that you want to do.
Imagine giving all your greatest attention to a project you create yourself...
Imagine that today is your final day of working for anyone other than yourself.
Chris Guillebeau’s new book,The 100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future ,is a wonderful guide to what it takes to make that leap.
I loved the stories of people who have successfully made that leap: the story of a suddenly unemployed salesman who grew a retail mattress business out of a load of surplus mattresses, the story of how a passion for map making led to a successful map making business, the story of a music teacher who built a software business. Woven throughout is Chris’ own story of growing his Unconventional Guides business.
In every case, the entrepreneur started the business with only a very small investment—the cost of a truckload of mattresses, the first printing of a set of maps, or a new camera. The traditional thought is that you need a lot of money to start a business. Chris shows that we all have the resources to start a $100 Startup.
Chris’ books are always very practical. After reading Chris’ e-book The Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself, I sold a few things on eBay and began looking for ways to earn a side income. After reading the Frequent Flyer Master, I earned 200,000 frequent flyer miles—enough for several round trip tickets. This one is no exception. He provides templates for a one page-business plan, a one page marketing strategy and even a one-page partnering agreement.
I also like how he provided financial information from the entrepreneurs. He told how much each of his case studies made in their first year and how it grew. These are not get rich quick stories. Many of the businesses started at around $60,000 for their first year. Yet many grew into the six figures in year two.
I have dreamed for years of starting a business, but only taken timid steps in that direction. I’m not looking to quit my job, only to diversify my income. The $100 Startup has given me not only the inspiration to push forward, but enough practical advice to help get me moving.
Warning: I didn’t have to buy this book. Chris sent me an advance copy for review. I have repaid his kindness by sprinkling this post with affiliate links both back to his site and to Amazon. I was thrilled last week when I received my first Amazon Affiliate payment. Sure, it was only $13.72 but, as Chris wrote in this book, there is magic in that first check.
In Issac Walterson's biography of Steve Jobs, Steve is repeatedly quoted in saying that he has strived to make Apple into an enduringly great company--one that will stand the test of time. Yet so much of Apple revolved around the cult of Steve Jobs and his "reality distortion field" that it is very hard to imagine Apple without him. So what is the chance that Apple will thrive in the post-Steve era?
In Jim Collins book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't, he described the seven characteristics that companies who had made the leap from average performance ("good") to exceptional Performance ("great"). Under Steve Jobs, Apple exhibited all but one.
First who than what: Steve was fanatical about hiring the right people. Shortly after his return to Apple, he would hound someone to come to work at Apple if he taught that the person was right for the job. He was equally merciless in firing someone if he thought that the person was not performing. He always struggled to have only A players on his team.
Confront the brutal facts: Steve was brutally honest. Although he had a magical way of getting what he wanted out of a product, he never hid from failure. When products didn't work out (remember "Mobile Me"?) he wouldn't hesitate to kill it.
Hedgehog concept: Steve's greatest strength was his ability to focus like a laser on a few products. At his death, when Apple was one of the largest companies in the United States, its entire product line would fit on an average dining room table. He knew that Apple's success was tied to its ability to make a small number of truly great products.
Culture of discipline: Steve drove his team mercilessly to create the culture that he wanted. His team knew his vision and tried hard to implement it.
Technology as accelerators: Although Apple produced wonderful technologly, they never based their own business systems on cutting edge technology. They adopted web-based ordering only long after others had done it. Their best marketing was through their beautiful stores and traditional ads. They used technology, but did not follow fads.
Flywheel effect: As Apple produced one beautiful product after another, the cumulative effect of the other characteristics was clear.
He did everything right except for one thing. Although he was a Level Five leader that cared more for the company than his (quite oversized) ego, he did not prepare Apple for a successor. He did work closely with Tim Cook and hand the company over to him shortly before he died. However there is no cult of Tim Cook. Steve's hand was in everything that Apple did. The iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad could not have been built under anyone else's leadership. It took a CEO who cared passionately about quality and who had an exquisite sense of taste to make these into the masterpieces that they are. Tim Cook has a reputation for someone who gets things done, not for someone who makes great things.
In the conclusion of the biography of Steve Jobs, he is quoted as he talks about the downfall of other great companies. He claimed that companies such as Hewlett Packard fell apart when they were run by salesmen instead of product people. He said that is what happened to Apple in the 1980’s under Scully. Unfortunately, it seems that he has left Apple is just that type of hands. Bill Gates was quoted as saying that only Steve Jobs could have built a company that offered such complete integreation of software and hardware. When Steve was asked to name another company that so successfully offered the same level of complete integration, he couldn't come up with one.
Without a Steve Jobs to set the tone and vision, how could Apple continue to innovate so beautifully?After the last of Steve's products make it to market, will Apple be able to come up with a worthy sucessor to the iMac-Ipod-Iphone-Ipad family?
What do you think? Is it time to buy or sell Apple stock?
photo by Jordan Michael of Red 1 Studios
Two years ago, the ground in Port-au-Prince shook and tens of thousands of buildings collapsed. The January 12th earthquake was the worst disaster to ever hit the Americas. The early days after the earthquake were unimaginable. When I drive through some of the neighborhoods that I visited that first week, I get terrible flashbacks. Poor Haiti had been in such bad shape before the earthquake, I just couldn’t imagine how it would ever get rebuilt.
As we commemorate the second anniversary of the earthquake, there are lots of stories highlighting what has and has not been done. A lot of articles focus on the apparent slow progress with headlines like Haiti 2 years later: Half a million still in camps. Except that most people are not in camps because they lost their house and are waiting for someone to rebuild it. They are in the camps because they are desperately poor and have nowhere to turn. The Miami Heralds video, Nous Boke: Two Years Later nicely highlights this problem by talking with people living in the distant Corail camp who are desperate for work.
This desperation existed well before the earthquake. The earthquake made a bad situation much worse. The important question is where should Haiti be today? Given how bad the situation was before the earthquake and how bad the damage was, have we made good progress?
At the one year anniversary, I had strongly mixed feelings. On one hand, I was disappointed at the lack of progress. The camp populations seemed enormous. Although the rubble had been cleared from the roads, the wounds seemed very fresh. I wished that we had made greater progress. At the same time, I couldn’t image having worked harder or pushed my team any harder. I found the same reaction when I talked with others working to rebuild Haiti. We wished that we could have done more, but had no idea how we could have gone any faster.
At the second anniversary, I feel far better about the progress. The rubble is gone from most public spaces. The government’s program to empty six camps into sixteen neighborhoods (“6/16”) has emptied the camps that used to occupy Place St Pierre and Place Boyer—two of the most visible camps. As I drive around Port-au-Prince, life seems to be much more normal.
One of the challenges is that change comes slowly. After the earthquake, we all hoped that Haiti could be quickly rebuilt and rebuilt better. We dreamed of modernizing Port-au-Prince to have wider streets, of building modern building, of making Port-au-Prince into a livable city. Two years later, we are still dreaming of this. In Delmas, we are working with an urban planner who has drawn pictures of townhouses on palm tree lined streets. Maybe someday we will get there. However, we have to first finish repairing the existing buildings, clear out the collapsed buildings, and start repairing the streets.
When I left Haiti in May 2010, I did not intend to return. I was proud of what I had accomplished and wanted to try something new. I also feared that if I stayed in Haiti, that Haiti would break my heart. I stayed and it did. But I am glad that I stayed. Brick by brick, micro-entrepreneur by micro entrepreneur, we are helping to rebuild Haiti. It is a long slow fight, but I believe that we are moving in the right direction.
What do you think? Should we be proud of what we have accomplished or should we be embarrased that we have not done more?
The beauty of Apple's products was their singular, clear vision. Whether it is the iPhone, iPod, or Macintosh, the product was clearly designed with its purpose--Steve Job's vision of what the product should be. By contrast, Farhead Mohat's biggest complaint about his Android phone is that it seems to be designed by a committee. Although it is "the most powerful phone" on the market, people don't love it because they don't understand its purpose--and that is the beauty of Steve Jobs' leadership. He knew what he wanted and fearlessly pushed for that result. He didn't need focus groups or committees to validate his vision. He did not seem to wrestle with uncertainty. He boldly pushed forward and was right often enough.
I have been wrestling with leading through uncertainty as I read Jonathon Field's book: Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance. I have been fortunate to lead our Haiti office through a time of change as we have tried to move from being a good organization to being a great one. When I preordered the book, I was hoping for suggestions on how to be more certain that the path that I had taken was the right one. I thought the discussion would be on the importance of establishing a strong baseline and clear milestones to be able to track progress. Instead, the book talks about meditating and being comfortable with uncertainty. If I had merely read the book and put it aside, I would not have gotten much out of it.
Fortunately, the preorder deal allowed me to participate in a series of teleconferences and to listen to his interviews with two of the people highlighted in the book. What I learned surprised me. I learned that the ability to work through uncertainty--to neither run from it nor to allow yourself to be immobilized by the fear that it brings--is a rare and valuable skill. A key value that a strong leader brings to an organization is to reduce the uncertainty for the rest of the team by providing a clear vision--in effect absorbing the uncertainty so that others don't have to. After all, any path to great results cannot be a certain one or everyone else would already be walking down it.
I don't have Steve Jobs arrogance, but I find it easier to live with uncertainty knowing that not only is it critical to leading teams in new directions, but it is a service that I am providing to my team.
How do you deal with uncertainty?
Several friends have asked me for recommendations on books about Haiti. The following are books that I have read and would recommend. I have divided them into four categories (fiction, non-fiction, dubious but interesting, and coffee table books). I thought about leaving out entirely the books that I consider a bit dubious, but the all have facinating information. (Note all links are amazon affiliate links)
The Comedians by Graham Greene: Classics just never go out of date. This is still a great book about Haiti.
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende: a moving portrayal of the Haitian revolution told from the point of view of a slave, her owner, and people both sympathetic to the revolutions and fighting against it. Note that the second half of the book takes place in New Orleans.
The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat: the story of the massacre of Haitians in the Dominican borderlands in 1939.
Breath, Eyes, Memory also by Edwidge Danticat: fictionalized story of growing up in Haiti.
Notes From the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti by Michael Deibert and Raoul Peck: a great overview of the collapse of the second Aristide government.
Rainy Season: Haiti-Then and Now by Amy Wilentz: a fascinating look into Aristide's role in the downfall of the Duvalier Government. It was written before Aristide's government collapsed and does not look into the darker side of what later happened.
The Immaculate Invasion by Bob Shacochis: the story of the 1994 US occupation told by an embedded reporter. This nicely brings out the rambling, lack of focus that characterized the occupation.
Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American ;the autobiography of Jean-Robert Cade. Tells the story of the abuses that he faced as a child slave in Haiti. Knowing how many kids never escape form this fate makes it a painful read.
Mountains beyond Mountains : Tracy Kidder the fascinating story of Dr. Paul Farmer and the start of Partners in Health.
Anything by Paul Farmer: Dr. farmer is a hero for the work that he has done in Haiti and around the world. In his books, he plays fast and free with the facts to back up his own point of view.
The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic by Wade Davis: A supposedly scientific investigation into voodoo. I don’t believe the insights into how voodoo works, but it does have good insights into Haitian rural life.
Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola by Michele Wucker: provides a great, east to read overview of the history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. However, the central thesis that the island is too small to allow for strong presidents to govern in both countries doesn't really hold up.
Paroles et Lumieres-Where Light Speaks: Haiti (English and French Edition), by Hiebert; Phelps; Yates; Cav: A beautiful look at Haiti by two people who love it well.
Hispaniola: A Photographic Journey through Island Biodiversity by Eladio Fernández: A beautiful catalog of the animals on both sides of the island.
What other books would you recommend on Haiti?