Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Haiti ... frustration! The case of the CBHF's undisbursed funds!

Dear Colleagues

A friend has forwarded me a donation solicitation e-mail from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (CBHF) with the message "I could not help but think of you and the frustration you must be feeling here."

He is 100% right. To confirm my level of frustration I followed the links to the CBHF website and tried to get a good feel for what this fund is accomplishing. The website has a page about "staff" and I thought it would be interesting to find out some of the people who are working in the organization ... but the page is missing. I then went into the FAQ page, in part to see what they had to say about "accountability". No surprise ... there is no mention anywhere about the issue of accountability. However I did find the following:
14) How much money has been contributed to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund?
To date, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund has raised over $50 million from over 230,000 individuals and organizations, and has disbursed more than $4 million in grants to organizations on the ground in Haiti providing near-term relief and recovery assistance. A list of these critical grants can be found below.

15) Why have only a portion of the funds already raised by CBHF been spent on the ground in Haiti?

In a disaster of this size and scope, there are two phases of providing help: near-term relief and longer-term aid and reconstruction. At the time of the earthquake, Presidents Clinton and Bush saw a need and quickly responded. During the immediate aftermath, CBHF distributed a portion of money raised to assist in humanitarian relief and provide aid for basic needs aid. These near-term relief funds were allocated to a variety of organizations that provided immediate food, shelter and medical support in Haiti.

In concert with CBHF funding, a massive mobilization of other international aid organizations also went to work addressing urgent, basic needs.

CBHF has now shifted to the second phase of support with a focus more toward longer-term reconstruction assistance to help Haiti's economy recover, grow, and thrive in a way that is sustainable and viable for many generations to come. Money raised through CBHF will be invested to promote a vibrant, inclusive, environmentally conscious, decentralized, more formal and more competitive economy - an economy that will allow Haiti to thrive and provide everyone with the opportunity to prosper.

Supporting micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, creating jobs and promoting economic opportunity is challenging and requires creativity, flexibility and a private sector orientation that is sometimes not found in traditional support and relief organizations. CBHF strategy, staff, and resources are designed to bring these aspects to bear in helping the Haitian people rebuild in both the near and longer-term.

I was very surprised to find that the CBHF has only raised $50 million ... but I was even more surprised to find that only $4 million has been disbursed. Even at low interest rates the income from $46 million is substantial ... one wonders how the accounting is handling this!

But in terms of critical needs in Haiti and available resources there seems to be a huge ... an obscene ... disconnect. These photo-op trips to Haiti by Presidents Clinton and Bush are perhaps important for fund raising ... but what is going on in the CBHF around the business of managing the resources raised and using them effectively. The feedback I am getting from colleagues working in Haiti is that there is huge frustration ... many unmet needs and terrible fund flow bottlenecks.

My approach to relief and development assistance seems to have more and more merit, the longer I work at understanding the performance of the high profile big name organizations.


Peter Burgess

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