Recently over 100 members of the Haitian community gathered at a networking event at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Co-hosted by a group of committed volunteers in nonprofit, academic, media, and business environments, this festive networking event focused on bringing people together on a Friday afternoon to learn more about productive pathways to higher education in Haiti and the United States and how to help each other leverage the skills and training acquired in higher education to collectively make society a better place. 

Haitian excellence is abundant in US society, notably at Harvard itself, with the recent announcement of Claudine Gay, the child of Haitian immigrants, as the incoming President at Harvard University, highlighting Haitian talent at the highest levels of academia. 

Haitian talent writ large was on display on March 5-7 when dozens of Haitian professionals, academics, and social entrepreneurs and activists, gathered for a series of networking and educational events at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, built around the 24th Annual Social Enterprise Conference, co-chaired by MC/MPA candidate Marc Alain Boucicault.  Social Enterprises are of particular interest to investors in Haiti because there is both opportunity and significant need. 

Already prominent among social entrepreneurs in Haiti, Marc Alain, Co-chair of the francophone caucus at Harvard is a champion of education, leadership, and entrepreneurship in Haiti. He is the founder of Banj, a think tank and business incubator, and sits on the advisory board of the Haitian Education and Leadership Program ( HELP). 

Marc Alain introduced the panel held on Friday, March 4, at HKS.  Panelists were Daphnée Charles, HELP Alumna 2012 and Development Office for Haiti; Nadine Duplessy Kearns, Harvard College Class of 1996; and Elie Lafortune, MPA ’11, Harvard Alumni Association Contact in Haiti.  The group was moderated by award-winning Haitian media personality Carel Pedre. 

Ms. Charles spoke of her experience with HELP and how it changed her own life dramatically, opening avenues for growth previously unattainable for her. She shared how this remarkable 26-year-old program has changed the lives of over 300 young Haitians. About 80% of them have chosen to stay in Haiti to be a part of the solution for a brighter future. HELP is unique in Haiti. It provides full 5-year scholarships to A+ students with strong ability and leadership potential.

The program targets students with limited ability to further their education beyond high school. The institution provides admitted students full academic scholarships to study a field of their choosing at top Haitian universities such as Quisqueya, Notre Dame, and ESIH. HELP students live together in dormitories and exchange learnings across academic fields of study.

Daphnée shared more: what truly sets the HELP scholars apart is their additional intensive training at the HELP Center: 2 years of computer literacy, 4 years of mandatory English, and 4 years of Citizenship and Leadership training. Additionally, HELP provides numerous internship and job placement opportunities for its graduates. The private sector in Haiti recognizes the excellence of HELP graduates and contributes to building this talent pool via scholarship contributions back to HELP. Alumni also contribute back via Haiti’s first contribution alumni program KOREM. The graduates donate 10% of their income for the first 8 years on the job market to fund new scholarships at HELP. To date, 7 new scholars are funded by KOREM. 

The weekend was amply documented as part of ‘Chokarella Takeover’ of Boston. Carel, another HELP advisory board member, interviewed leading Haitians in Boston, including Alix Cantave and Dana François, program officers for Haiti from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 

Harvard Alumna Nadine Duplessy Kearns spoke of the importance of Higher Education overall and, in particular, her personal experience at Harvard (where she also met her husband) and what that has meant for her professional journey since graduating in 1996.

Friday evening’s ‘Haitians at Harvard’ networking event and panel on higher education drew 75 diaspora Haitians in person and 100 for the live stream. Another 14,000 viewed the recording within a few days. 

As the second bookend to this intense weekend: on Sunday evening, March 5, after the wider, globally focused #SECON Social Enterprise Conference wrapped up, this group of highly educated and socially committed Haitians once again gathered in force. HELP sponsored this networking event for over 30 professionals at a popular Cambridge gathering place, harnessing the power of networking to support the concrete efforts being made to expand ethical leadership in Haiti via the powerful work of HELP.

Check out how HELP started with only one student to now 310 graduates and 187 current students.