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Digital Democracy

Empowering Civic Engagement Through Digital Technologies

Haiti Research 2010

Digital Democracy
Empowering Civic Engagement Through Digital Technologies

Savings and Chance

Economic livelihoods of Young Haitians

Why We Went Country Snapshot

In January 2010, Digital Democracy
On January 12, 2010, Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake
partnered with Tufts Universityʼs
that will change the country forever in ways that are still unclear.
Center for Emerging Market
Before January 12, there were 9 million people in Haiti, 80 percent of
Enterprises to conduct research in
which lived below the poverty line and two-thirds were dependent on
Haiti and a photography training. The
agriculture. GDP (purchasing power parity) was 11.53 billion in 2008,
authors of this report, researchers
which is 1,300 dollars per capita. Living standards in Haiti have not
Joshua Haynes and Chrissy Martin,
improved in the last 30 years, and have actually been getting much
aimed to gain a better understanding
worse: GDP per capita was 2,400 dollars in 1980.
of the financial lives of Haitians. On
previous trips to Haiti, researcher
This dire economic situation has led to emigration in search of jobs
Kim Wilson had observed that lottery
and a dependence on money from the Haitian Diaspora. The two
kiosks, known as borlettes, are
billion dollar remittances market accounts for approximately thirty
ubiquitous, reaching much further
percent of the countryʼs GDP.  This is twice the amount of money that
into rural Haiti than any microfinance
Haiti earns from exports, and is more than official development
organization. We went to examine
assistance and foreign direct investment combined.  The amount
the role that the pervasive lottery
continues to grow: in 2007, it was triple the level it was in 1998.
culture might play in encouraging
savings and provide banking
Unfortunately, all available statistics in the country no longer
services, whether through using
represent reality, since no one knows exactly how the demographics,
lottery kiosks directly as distribution
infrastructure, and landscape have
points, or creating prize-based
been changed now that the country
savings products to incentivize
has lost over 200,000 of its people, as
savings. Similar lottery-inspired
well as most of its government
financial products have been
buildings and resources.
successful in the United States,
England, and South Africa.
Yet, Haiti has experienced natural
disasters and man-made destruction
This research was part of a “Savings
countless times throughout the
and Chance” study for the
countryʼs short history, and somehow
MasterCard Foundation. The youth-
continue to not only survive but to
centered focus was inspired by
innovate and adapt. Political stability
MasterCardʼs commitment to working
seemed to finally be a reality after the
with youth and the knowledge that
last coup dʼetat in 2004, but the
financial habits start at a young age.
country was hit hard in the 2008
Any innovative program to expand
hurricane season by four storms that
financial inclusion, especially one
left more than 800,000 people
integrating technology, will first be
homeless and devastated its agriculture. Gros Monde, where we worked
adapted by younger generations. in Haiti

Digital Democracy is a non-profit organization using digital technologies to empower civic engagement. We
work with local partners to develop tools that help community organizations promote human rights and build local
capacity. Emphasizing the need for new media literacy, we prepare youth & communities with the tools they need
to be informed and engaged citizens in the 21st century. 
Digital Democracy
Empowering Civic Engagement Through Digital Technologies

What We Did
Project Einstein complemented the larger scoping study by using digital photography to understand
how one group of young adults, ages 18 to 24, view money and finance in their society. The twelve
young adults are part of a church in Gros
Monde, a town in the mountains north
of Port au Prince of northern Haiti. 

We spent some time discussing famous

photographs, and the youth opened up
as they talked about their reactions to
each photo, commenting on the use of
light and the emotions portrayed. The
next day, the group discussed what
money means to them, and then split
into four teams. Each team chose their

Team 1: What are the consequences of


Team 2: Does money make you better

than other people?

Team 3: Can you live without money? 

Team 4: What are the uses of money? 

Project Einstein: Haiti Team
After the themes were chosen, the four
teams spent several hours taking pictures of their community in order to depict their theme. Later,
they discussed each picture and its meaning with the researchers. We aired portions of the training on
the internet via livestreaming and mapping with our mobile phone.

The town of Gros Monde was not directly affected by the natural disaster.  However, the digital
cameras and the laptop used were in a hotel which collapsed in Port au Prince, and the photos are
now among the countless items lost in the disaster. The pictures are lost, but their story is not. 

Gros Monde is suffering and will continue to suffer indirectly from the earthquake, as the town is
currently receiving thousands of refugees from Port au Prince. In the long-term, they will suffer
because most youth moved to Port au Prince for work soon after graduation from high school, an
economic outlet that is no longer available. The project gives some insight into the resilience of these
youth and their community to work hard in seemingly hopeless situations and an attitude towards
money that we can only hope will continue to serve them well as they try to cope with the needs of
rebuilding Haiti.
Digital Democracy
Empowering Civic Engagement Through Digital Technologies

What We Learned
Complex perceptions of money
The research provided insight both on how the youth viewed finance and
technology. In terms of finance, the youth had a clear understanding of the
risk of money. They did not talk about the material things that money could
buy, but rather how hard the people in their community have to work just to
feed their children. One team took pictures of a woman selling dried fish in
the hot sun, young men driving motorcycle taxis, and people in the market
selling food and shoes. In each case, the message was the same: you have
to make money, even if it is difficult or if the work is poorly paid.  

The pictures also depicted the informal financial mechanisms utilized by

community members. There were pictures of kids and parents paying the
Project Einstein Training borlette. The photographers described playing the lotto as trying to make
money without working hard. 
There is a chance that “you will “Receiving money makes the
make a lot of money, but also a
chance that your kids wonʼt eat man in the picture happy, but
that day.” Another group it doesnʼt mean that he is
photographed a picture of a
seemingly non-assuming building now better than me.”
with a courtyard. When asked - Ruby, Project Einstein
what the building signified, the
group indicated that it was a “Café
de Femmes”, or a brothel. Money is sometimes too powerful, the group
indicated, it can even buy another person, or pleasure.

There was a general skepticism of money from outsiders.  The youth were
Port Au Prince very enthusiastic about the project but were also inquisitive about why we
were there and how they might benefit financially from the project.  This was
also depicted in the photographs.  Multiple teams took a picture of a
government-funded public space project that had fallen to disrepair because
the allocated money never arrived, and because the funded monies were
squandered. These attitudes reflect their experience with both international
NGO and government money as unreliable and short-term. 

Regarding technology, we observed how eager the participants were to learn

and use the digital cameras although they had never taken a picture before.
Most had a mobile phone of their own, surprising for young adults with little to
no income. Each has an email address, which they can check at school or at
the local church. Youth literacy in relation to technology was observed
throughout the country. Other young people we interacted in Port au Prince
had Facebook accounts that they accessed through an iTouch, for example.
We also talked with local entrepreneurs that are developing innovative ways
to use technology. One example is Solutions, a company developing a
Typical Lottery Chain
system for sending remittances via SMS, and winner of On the Frontierʼs
Pioneers of Prosperity award.
Digital Democracy
Empowering Civic Engagement Through Digital Technologies


Mobile subscriptions are growing rapidly, expanding from 1.7 per 100
people in 2002 to 26.1 per 100 people in 2007. These new customers are
already starting to switch to internet-enabled phones: 867,000 have
purchased WAP enabled phones, starting at 50 USD. Yet, only 40,000
people actually using data, since there are still no applications for the
technology that make the cost of data worth it to such a poor population.
The graph at right from GapMinder shows the mobile phone penetration in
Haiti relative to GDP:
Mobile penetration relative to GDP

Although key economic indicators are not improving, technological access

and literacy is spreading rapidly. This rapid spread shows the potential for
the country to become an information-based society despite its many
problems in other areas.

However, as noted previously, the situation post-earthquake is much less

stable and much harder to assess since previous statistics are no longer
valid. We do know that the telecommunications companies were almost at
full capacity a few weeks after the earthquake, and international aid
continues to fund the improvement infrastructure and capacity. One local
entrepreneur checked entry forms at an IDP (Internally Displaced Person)
camps on February 4, 2010 and found that 85 percent of families provided
a phone contact, implying that they still have access to phones. The main
concern at the time of this report is the lack of access to electricity to Borlette Numbers, Gonaives
recharge phones. We have received reports from the ground that micro-
entrepreneurs have already set up recharge stations throughout many IDP
camps. Yet, many people will not be able to afford even the 40 cent recharge
fee in the foreseeable future.

Made Possible By
Thank you to individual donors, our supporters, our Advisory Board
and our heroic local partners. Nokia/WOMworld supported
communication and video documentation by providing mobile phones. Taken during Earthquake
New Words Media provided training materials and media. Travel was
made possible by Mastercard Foundation. Logistics and research
provided by our key partner Center For Emerging Market Enterprises at
The Fletcher School, Tufts University. Additional photos by Matt Herbert

Mural at the Villa Manrese

Digital Democracy
Empowering Civic Engagement Through Digital Technologies

What We Recommend
1)! Train and support youth on the ground to do the reporting in their communities, including:
! a. Citizen journalism that identifies local needs and resources and highlights community
b. Multimedia such as photo & video, mapping (including Open Street Maps and Ushahidi)
c. Connect through existing media sources such as television and community radio
d. Support job creation & career development:
• Payment for services - to replace short-term income void, allowing youth to monetize
their work
• Engagement Response System - rewards through social capital
! Importantly, training people on the ground should focus on putting the power of information into
! local hands and developing the capacity of local organizations.

2) Monitor aid & corruption in the rebuilding

process. Haiti already received more “We wonʼt have a country like
international aid money per capita than any
other country before the earthquake, and it was before (the
yet the majority of the Haitian people lived earthquake) because we
under the official poverty line, and exhibited
a general distrust of external money, as we have a seriously poor
found in Gros Monde. Tools such as government that is managing
Ushahidi can be used to gather feedback
directly from young locals and ensure that the aid from the international
the rebuilding is rooted in community community.”
• Participatory Budgeting - Encourage - Cetoute, Project Einstein
collaboration between the many actors
working on economic rebuilding. Technology can be used to provide access to finance in a
situation with no infrastructure, which is why many actors, including Open Revolution, Mercy
Corps, and Solutions are interested in a possible mobile payments platform. A mobile
payments system can be improved by mapping software such as Ushahidi so that people
know where cash-in cash-out points are located. Mapping is improved by the training of local
youth, which can improve citizen journalism as encouraged by groups including Internews
and Plan. This combination of local and international actors thinking creatively about the
power of technology will amplify the voices of Haitians in the rebuilding for the first time.
• Participatory Design - To confront the obstacles of cynicism and corruption, it is critical to
involve the community in defining their existing resources, their needs and facilitating
conversations on how organizations and the government can fulfill those needs in a timely
and cost efficient manner.
• Diaspora Involvement - There is a large Haitian diaspora that is interested in becoming more
involved than by merely sending remittances. Successful projects mean reaching out to
them both as distribution networks, but also through social media and through tools that
allow them to be volunteers contributing to work on the ground. Amazon Mechanical Turk
has proven effective for this as a system for distributing small computer tasks.

Digital Democracy
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