In the decade-plus since Haiti’s capital and nearby cities were devastated by a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake, millions of dollars in promised aid remain uncollected, and many of the organizations that said they would help rebuild have left the country.
But at least one philanthropic group continues to work, funneling millions of dollars in grants every year to grassroots, community-based organizations in Haiti in an effort to help them change the trajectory of their local communities.
On Tuesday, that group, U.S. based W.K. Kellogg Foundation, founded in 1930 by breakfast cereal innovator and entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, announced a new initiative that it hopes will not only raise tens of millions in additional money for Haiti, but that will also create “pockets of hope” in the country.
“There is an approach to working in Haiti, which is about building local relationships, understanding the people on the ground, working with them, and giving them the power to make their own decisions about how the money is invested,” said La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “Listening to what they need.”
Following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, Tabron said Kellogg “committed ourselves to Haiti for at least a generation and what that means for us is that we wanted to partner alongside the local organizations, long-term in the country. When we do that, we really are following our values, because we believe that people have the inherent capacity to improve their own lives.”
On Tuesday, the W.K Kellogg Foundation announced a $30 million, three-year commitment to invest in efforts by Haiti-based organizations to assist children, families and communities in the volatile country. The announcement, part of its “Pockets of Hope” campaign, was made at the Clinton Global Initiative 2023 gathering in New York, where more than 2,000 people from a cross-section of industries gathered over two days to discuss issues ranging from climate change to health equity to economic growth and recovery post COVID-19.
Haiti, which once featured prominently at the gathering launched by President Clinton, and shepherded by his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter Chelsea, didn’t get much focus this year. However, Kellogg is hoping to change that as it reaches out to philanthropic organizations and reminds them that now more than ever, Haiti needs their help.
“That’s what our entire Haiti ‘Pockets of Hope’ campaign is all about. It’s helping investors understand that this work has continued…and there are places to invest now,” Tabron said. “What we want to do is help to build that local [non-governmental organization] infrastructure and support the collaboration of those organizations so that they’re building a system from the ground up, regardless of whatever the governmental structures may be.”
Haiti doesn’t just have a political problem — the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated two years ago and there isn’t currently a single elected official — its escalating gang violence and kidnappings have led many charities to pull away or pull out altogether. But the needs remain, Tabron said.
Overall, Kellogg is seeking to raise $90 million as part of Pockets of Hope, by encouraging philanthropy groups to support community-led education, health, economic security and other initiatives in Haiti that the foundation has been providing grants for. Companies like the Digicel Foundation, Dunn Family Charitable Foundation and Porticus have together already committed nearly $20 million, outside of Kellogg’s $30 million, Tabron said.
To build support for the campaign, Kellogg plans to convene funders, non-profit organizations, members of Haiti’s diaspora, and other supporters of the country who want to increase investments for Haitian-designed and Haitian-led programs that have the potential to transform entire communities. It has also turned to Garcelle Beauvais, the Haitian-American actress and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star and influencer.
“What I want people to realize is that Haiti still needs help,” Beauvais told the Miami Herald in an interview ahead of the announcement. “This initiative is bringing Haiti back to the forefront of everybody’s minds and to remind people we still need help.”
Beauvais, who was born in Haiti and attended high school in the Miami area, said she understands that people may be hesitant. After all, the news coming out of the country leaves even her feeling overwhelmed, she said. In addition to trying to figure out where the country is headed, there is still the unsettled question from the 2010 earthquake about where promised money went.
“We don’t know what happened to the money. We don’t know where it went, other disasters happened, and then …people forgot,” Beauvais said. “[But] we still need efforts.”
She is hoping those efforts will help change the narrative about Haiti by demonstrating that despite the gang violence, kidnappings and multidimensional crises, there are still people in the country doing good work helping their communities.
“I’ve said this before, when I go to Haiti, and I post beautiful pictures, people always say, thank you for reminding us because we only see the disaster parts. We don’t see the beautiful things. We don’t see what the local communities are doing,’ ” said Beauvais, who last visited Haiti right before the COVID pandemic with her twin sons. “And I think that’s why this foundation and this campaign is important.”
She is supporting Kellogg, the former model added, because its plan for her homeland “aligns with who I am, what I want to do. It aligns with how much I love Haiti.”
“I feel like we have to give back, we have to remember,” said Beauvais. “And, you know, with my platform, I have all eyes on me in all different areas. And so it’s important for me to align with things that make sense that, you know, push the narrative that I want to.”
Beauvais said what is currently taking place in the country breaks her heart and she doesn’t know when the shift is going to happen, so that Haiti can once more thrive. However, she still believes it is possible and “with the Kellogg Foundation what we want to do is really give the opportunity so Haitians can thrive again, we deserve that opportunity.”
Kellogg currently averages between $10 million and $15 million a year in grant-making to Haiti-based organizations, which number around 80, said Alix Cantave, Kellogg’s program officer for Haiti. “We don’t have a limit, or a floor or ceiling,” he added.
In addition to providing support to local organizations, Kellogg is also trying to work with U.S.-based Haitian organizations to see how they can harness their voting power and access to influence policy.
“We have to think about how we leverage the diaspora,” Cantave said, “because that is a powerful force.”