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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 In January 2010, Digital Democracy partnered with Tufts Universityʼs Center for Emerging Market Enterprises to conduct research in Haiti and a photography training. The authors of this report, researchers Joshua Haynes and Chrissy Martin, aimed to gain a better understanding of the financial lives of Haitians. On previous trips to Haiti, researcher Kim Wilson had observed that lottery kiosks, known as borlettes, are ubiquitous, reaching much further into rural Haiti than any microfinance organization. We went to examine the role that the pervasive lottery culture might play in encouraging savings and provide banking services, whether through using lottery kiosks directly as distribution points, or creating prize-based savings products to incentivize savings. Similar lottery-inspired financial products have been successful in the United States, England, and South Africa. This research was part of a “Savings and Chance” study for the MasterCard Foundation. The youthcentered focus was inspired by MasterCardʼs commitment to working with youth and the knowledge that financial habits start at a young age. Any innovative program to expand financial inclusion, especially one integrating technology, will first be adapted by younger generations.

Country Snapshot !

On January 12, 2010, Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake that will change the country forever in ways that are still unclear. Before January 12, there were 9 million people in Haiti, 80 percent of which lived below the poverty line and two-thirds were dependent on agriculture. GDP (purchasing power parity) was 11.53 billion in 2008, which is 1,300 dollars per capita. Living standards in Haiti have not improved in the last 30 years, and have actually been getting much worse: GDP per capita was 2,400 dollars in 1980. This dire economic situation has led to emigration in search of jobs and a dependence on money from the Haitian Diaspora. The two billion dollar remittances market accounts for approximately thirty percent of the countryʼs GDP.  This is twice the amount of money that Haiti earns from exports, and is more than official development assistance and foreign direct investment combined.  The amount continues to grow: in 2007, it was triple the level it was in 1998. Unfortunately, all available statistics in the country no longer represent reality, since no one knows exactly how the demographics, infrastructure, and landscape have been changed now that the country has lost over 200,000 of its people, as well as most of its government buildings and resources. Yet, Haiti has experienced natural disasters and man-made destruction countless times throughout the countryʼs short history, and somehow continue to not only survive but to innovate and adapt. Political stability seemed to finally be a reality after the last coup dʼetat in 2004, but the country was hit hard in the 2008 hurricane season by four storms that left more than 800,000 people homeless and devastated its agriculture. Gros Monde, where we worked 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 theme: Team 1: What are the consequences of money?  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.  

Project Einstein Training

Port Au Prince

Typical Lottery Chain

The pictures also depicted the informal financial mechanisms utilized by community members. There were pictures of kids and parents paying the 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 man in the picture happy, but chance that your kids wonʼt eat that day.” Another group it doesnʼt mean that he is photographed a picture of a now better than me.” seemingly non-assuming building 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 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 system for sending remittances via SMS, and winner of On the Frontierʼs Pioneers of Prosperity award.


Digital Democracy Empowering Civic Engagement Through Digital Technologies

Technology 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 recharge phones. We have received reports from the ground that microentrepreneurs 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.

Borlette Numbers, Gonaives

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. 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.

Taken during Earthquake

Mural at the Villa Manrese Convent


Digital Democracy Empowering Civic Engagement Through Digital Technologies

What We Recommend

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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 voices 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 it was before (the other country before the earthquake, and yet the majority of the Haitian people lived earthquake) because we under the official poverty line, and exhibited have a seriously poor a general distrust of external money, as we found in Gros Monde. Tools such as government that is managing Ushahidi can be used to gather feedback the aid from the international directly from young locals and ensure that the rebuilding is rooted in community community.” needs. - Cetoute, Project Einstein • Participatory Budgeting - Encourage 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.

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Digital Democracy Haiti Research 2010