In the days following the Aug. 14 earthquake, hundreds of people reached out to Digicel staff members asking how the telecommunications company planned to assist. Some suggested that Digicel collect goods, but company officials decided to wire donations to local organizations instead.
The decision led to Digicel launching a donation site to collect funds for non-profit partners groups Fokal, Hope for Haiti and Health Equity International/St. Boniface Hospital, known as HEI/SBH. Digicel also pledged to match every donation up to $10,000, said Marteen Boute, Digicel Haiti’s chief executive officer.
“I have this thing [where] if I’m donating $100 and I know someone is going to match it, I might even be tempted to give more,” Boute said. “We also want to send a message to the rest of the world: If you want to support Haiti, help the organizations that are already there.”
Prior to launching the site, donations.digicelinternational.com, on Aug. 25, Digicel donated $50,000 to St. Boniface, based in the Southern Department. Digicel’s leaders believe giving money to local organizations will better help Haiti long-term, a lesson the company learned after seeing 2010 earthquake support efforts not bear much fruit.
“In 2010, we bought 3,000 tents, it’s not something I would recommend us to do again,” said Boute, based in Port-au-Prince. “I would prefer that we donate to organizations that are going to directly work on reconstruction. So next time the impact of a disaster would be less.”
In addition to donations, the diaspora has also been assisting survivors by sending Digicel top-ups, the amount of time people can talk on the phone. Throughout the month, Digicel provided five times more credit and 5 gigabytes more to customers who sent top-ups to a Digicel number in Haiti.
“We wanted to make sure that people got more time for their bucks,” said Christophe Justens, Digicel International’s general manager. “It wasn’t all about sending money, we wanted to facilitate the basic needs. From our perspective, that’s communication.”
The amount of top-ups sent to Haiti daily has been 50 percent higher than usual, Justens said.
“It’s something that is close to my heart,” Justens said. “I feel for the people and as an organization, we wanted to see how we could help.”
The company did not say how much has been donated on the site so far.