By Vania Andre
Nearly 400 attendees convened at the Royal Decameron Indigo Beach Resort & Spa from June 20 – 22 for the third annual Haiti Tech Summit (HTS). Despite concerns over political unrest and security in the country, summit organizers, Christine Souffrant-Ntim and Einstein Ntim, held steadfast in seeing the event pushed forward.
The summit featured more than 10 panels and discussions, 10 keynote addresses, including remarks from Forbes Chief Growth Officer Tom Davis, and Daraiha Greene, head of strategic partnerships for the inclusion team at Google.
“The psychology of the people was hard,” Souffrant-Ntim said during her opening remarks on day one of the summit. “I had to remind people that I’m not selling a summit or innovation. We already have that. I’m selling hope.”
Two weeks after the conclusion of last year’s summit, violent protests erupted across Port-au-Prince following an announcement from the government that fuel prices would increase by up to 50 percent. Demonstrators took to the streets burning tires and setting cars ablaze, while others targeted hotels and other popular establishments.
Since July 2018, there has been a steady stream of protests in Haiti that has now evolved into calls for the ouster of President Jovenel Moise over the growing PetroCaribe scandal. In February 2019, the city was on lockdown for 2 weeks because of daily protests. The most recent protest took place the Sunday before the start of the summit.
To alleviate attendees concerns over safety, the Ntims arranged for a police escort from the airport to the resort. Helicopter transport was made available for some of the attendees.
“People questioned whether we were being arrogant for not considering what’s taking place, or if we were being steadfast and showcasing that regardless of what’s going on, the show must go on,” Ntim said. “Just because something [negative] is happening [in the country], it doesn’t mean everything else needs to shut down. If we go that route, we’d have to start from scratch every time.”
First-time summit attendee Stephanie Fils-Noel wasn’t sure what to expect from the event. Despite some disapproval from friends and family about attending HTS because of Haiti’s current political climate, the Haitian-American fintech professional decided she was attending regardless.
“Growing up, Haiti has always been turbulent. I’m not new to this. I knew I was always coming,” said Fils-Noel. “There were a lot of people discouraging me from coming, but whatever expectation I did have, this summit exceeded it by far.
“Everyone is very competent in their respective domains. I’ve had some deep conversations with people about their stories, blockchain technologies, fintech and I can tell you there are some really smart people in this audience.”
In addition to panels and discussions, HTS featured pitch competitions, job recruitment booths and training workshops hosted by Dell, LinkedIn and Google.
Over the next year, the Ntims are bringing their tech summit franchise to at least 12 countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, and Côte d’Ivoire.
“There’s not enough consistency in Haiti in terms of programs and events,” Ntim said. “That’s why in 2017 we said this was going to be a 13-year initiative and we were very steadfast in that.”