From Development Practitioner to National Leader: Lessons from Garry Conille, Prime Minister of Haiti
On December 2, the Earth Institute welcomed Prime Minister Garry Conille of the Republic of Haiti to Columbia’s campus for a series of events highlighting and deepening the connections between the Earth Institute and the Government of Haiti. Over the course of his visit, the prime minister and students and scientists of the Earth Institute explored core issues of Haiti’s growth and development, from identifying priorities to sequencing interventions.
The prime minister was hosted by Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs, Professor Glenn Denning, director of the Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development (CGSD) and the Master’s in Development Practice program at SIPA (MPA-DP), and Professor Marc Levy, deputy director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN).
The day included a high-level policy dialogue between the prime minister, ratified by the Haitian parliament in early October, and 30 representatives of the many Earth Institute centers and research groups that are currently involved with initiatives in Haiti. Following the policy dialogue, Prime Minister Conille was invited as special guest speaker for the weekly Practitioner’s Seminar for MPA-DP students.
The prime minister’s professional experience, including work in Haiti and internationally with UNDP and UNFPA, acquaints him intimately with the challenges facing his country—from chronic poverty to extreme vulnerability, only exacerbated by repeated natural and humanitarian disasters. Now as a national leader, the prime minister’s background also makes him explicitly qualified to tackle these issues head on.
Prime Minister Conille offered a compelling perspective in his lecture on Haiti’s New Sustainable Growth Trajectory. He underscored the inherent difference between identifying Haiti’s chronic challenges and potential solutions, and implementing successful programs that create lasting change.
The prime minister’s address was fundamentally hopeful. He acknowledged the efforts of governments before his while stressing that in moving forward, Haiti is not only in need of sound information, funding and planning, but also a common vision and set of ideals. A banner of leadership by the government, said the prime minister, can unite the Haitian people and both coordinate and direct the myriad international organizations and donors.
Reflecting on the prime minister’s visit, Denning highlighted the opportunities for sustained collaboration with Haitian institutions to reduce poverty, promote economic growth and improve the environment. He added, “Our scientists and graduate students have the right skills and motivation to make a real and lasting difference in Haiti.”
Following his speech, the prime minister fielded questions from the MPA-DP students. He emphasized the importance of expanding Haiti’s infrastructure, both physical and knowledge-based, to make room for growth. From improved skills transfer and capacity building among Haitian professionals to innovative data collection strategies aimed at better understanding the specific needs of each region, Haiti will be able to coordinate efforts from the local to national scale while ultimately monitoring progress and ensuring staff sustainability.
Jessemin Sheyda-Losick, a second-year MPA-DP student, said, “The Prime Minister’s depth of knowledge across all sectors was evident during the question and answer session, when he adeptly handled tough questions with specific action plans and detailed numbers; the questions covered topics ranging from the challenges of donor coordination to proposals for new entrepreneurship initiatives to environmental disaster preparedness.”
Through internships and research practicums for students, and the continued involvement of the team of experts in the centers of the Earth Institute, it is clear that the mutually beneficial relationship between the Earth Institute and Haiti will only grow with time.
Learn more about the Earth Institute’s involvement in The Haiti Regeneration Initiative.