TACOMA, Washington — The ground shook with violent ferocity as horizons—once crowded with buildings—emptied in seconds. As the earth finally stilled, momentary panic gave way to gripping dread. This was the experience of those who survived Haiti’s historic 2010 earthquake. The much-publicized tragedy inspired a multi-billion-dollar fundraising campaign and a stunning display of global solidarity. However, as the media frenzy abated, the world soon forgot about poverty in Haiti. At the time of the earthquake, 80% of the population lived in or near extreme poverty, and Haiti’s corrupt leadership provided them with little relief. In the absence of government-led programs, the task of reconstructing Haiti has been thrust upon non-governmental organizations, like the Caring House Project.
Haiti poses an inscrutable challenge to anti-poverty forces, which seek to foster the country’s growth without making it dependent upon welfare. Frank McKinney, a real estate artist and best-selling author based in Florida, created the Caring House Project Foundation to rehabilitate Haiti from its aid addiction. In an interview with The Borgen Project, McKinney explains how by building self-sufficient villages in the country’s most impoverished regions, the non-profit champions “philanthrocapitalism,” an ideology that grants Haitians economic empowerment rather than short-term relief.
Factors that Contribute to Poverty in Haiti
In addition to natural disasters, various development challenges contribute to Haiti’s shockingly high poverty rate of 54%. Although these issues predate the 2010 earthquake, the disaster stubbornly entrenched them into Haiti’s decaying foundation.
- Corruption: Frank McKinney believes that the greatest obstacle to Haiti’s success is its leadership, as the country has consistently ranked among the most corrupt in the world. A steady supply of foreign aid has augmented debt levels and eroded governmental integrity, facilitating the maintenance of adverse, exploitative laws.
- Economic Instability: According to the World Bank, severe inflation and currency depreciation contributed to a 0.9% decrease in Haiti’s GDP from 2018 to 2019. Government efforts to contain the deficit serve only to magnify these issues, as divestment in welfare and business has hampered growth while weakening the social safety net. Already beleaguered by this recession, COVID-19 has imperiled the economy and increased poverty rates in Haiti.
- Economic Freedom: Haitians live in a near-vacuum of enterprise, and for decades, the country has ranked low on the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom Index. Feeble property rights and the arduous process of starting a business thwart entrepreneurship and growth. While attending a firelit “kombit,” or community gathering, McKinney asked Haitians what they desired in life. They replied, “We want the opportunity that you have.”
- Poor Infrastructure: Another symptom of its inept government, Haiti’s infrastructure is crumbling as access to clean tap water and electricity is unreliable. Corruption has also crept into Haiti’s security forces. In the past, police have allegedly kidnapped affluent individuals for ransom. Without effective leadership, poverty in Haiti will grow as its basic needs continue to go unmet.
The roadblocks to Haiti’s success have sustained a long-term flow of foreign aid, but McKinney maintains that such “charity exacerbates poverty.” Instead, he states that his “philanthrocapitalist” approach fosters autonomy by providing Haitians with the resources they need to lift themselves out of poverty.
Philanthrocapitalism and the Caring House Project Foundation
Frank McKinney defines “philanthrocapitalism” as “tak[ing]the best of philanthropy and capitalism and… put[ting]them together.” In doing so, the Caring House Project enacts meaningful, long-term change.
The Caring House Project Foundation builds self-sufficient villages in rural Haiti. Each of its 27 communities includes a unique blend of elements specific to its residents’ needs, such as a community center, a clinic, a school and rows of concrete houses. This work is driven by McKinney’s belief that in changing one life, one changes the world. Since its founding in 2003, the non-profit has given housing and hope to more than 12,400 children and their families.
The transformations that McKinney witnessed in his villages are truly remarkable. “When I saw a little child for the first time eating dirt, I didn’t know it was dirt,” said McKinney. “I was told by our guide that they were eating dirt, flavored with bouillon and lemon juice, to trick the stomach into thinking it’s getting some sustenance.” He explained how this moment made him realize the importance of addressing poverty in impoverished communities as vulnerable groups, such as children, are most affected.
“When you see the little children in these countries, and their stomachs are distended, it’s primarily because they’re eating dirt. There are worms—parasites—in that dirt, and once they ingest that, they begin to eat the lining of the stomach. And the stomach starts to give off a gas [that causes]the stomach of these children [to bloat].” As such, in the early stages of the non-profit organization, McKinney states, “it was really about providing food and shelter.”
Now, impoverished children living in a Caring House Project Foundation village attend school each day and return home each night to a full table.
How Does the Caring House Project Differ from other NGOs?
McKinney’s method diverges from that of other NGOs with its “philanthrocapitalist” approach. The Caring House Project Foundation endows each community with the cornerstone of economic success: “free enterprise.” Be it sewing machines, a farm or a fishing cooperative, the non-profit supplies residents with the means to construct their own local economy, provide for themselves and, ultimately, prosper.
In doing so, the Caring House Project grants villagers a chance for self-actualization without nurturing the welfare dependence that has stunted Haiti’s development. Additionally, the Caring House Project does not employ volunteers. In a country where some regions have an unemployment rate of 80%, the non-profit welcomes locals to construct new lives for themselves as they help repair vulnerable villages. Moreover, once the Caring House Project has built “the infrastructure for [a]self-sustaining existence,” the villagers are left responsible for their own futures.
Such an approach fuses philanthropy with the energy of capitalism to launch autonomous communities poised for success. Needless to say, all 27 of the Caring House Project’s villages are thriving. This is what McKinney calls a “return on donation.” Where others measure profit in terms of money made, CHPF measures it in human capital gained, opportunities created and lives transformed.
– Rosalind Coats