street corner in Cap haitien

How on earth we ended up in Haiti at the beginning of the new Millennium

For somebody who spent all of his working life in the oil business, Haiti – with no fossil fuel resources whatsoever, and a perpetual shortage of the refined stuff – is an unlikely location. Unless, of course, you have resigned from the oil business and opted for another career, which is what I had just done. Early 2000 I arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, to take up the job of Country Director. No, this is not an alternative for the position of president of the country, it is humanitarian development-speak for the head of an NGO – a non-governmental organisation, a not-for-profit good-doing organisation – in a country where development projects are being carried out.

Not-for-profit humanitarian development? That’s quite different from the oil industry? Well, yes and no. Country Director really is a management job, not all that different from the management positions I had held in my last years working for the oil company, and Plan International, my employer, was prepared to test whether people with a business background could successfully adapt to the non-profit environment. Although I was no specialist in terms of development program design, you can get people to that for you, and concentrate of the organisational structures, the business processes, financial transparency and motivating people, instead. A bit of strategy, a realistic operational plan, all these things were not necessarily well-developed in the NGO world at the time. And in terms of program designs, you go a long way with applying common sense, I found.

So there I was, director of an organisation I didn’t know, working in a sector that was new, an environment alien to me, and a country I had barely heard of before. No lack of challenges, shall we say!

Next: the hotel

tropical paradise Haiti

and more tropical paradise Haiti

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