About Us

Organizations across the globe are increasingly mistaking dependency for “development”

Truly long-term, sustainable development comes when a community has the opportunity to acquire the organizational skills and financial resources needed to manage its own development. Only then will the community begin developing and achieving the level of strength and independence it both needs and deserves.

Click here to read OUR VISION

Our Vision is for a world in which the very communities living in poverty are the ones leading the fight against it; a world in which impoverished communities decide their own future and manage their own development.

Click here to read OUR MISSION

Roots of Development helps marginalized populations acquire the organizational skills and financial resources they need to build and strengthen their communities.

What started as an organic, unplanned relationship with a single community in Haiti, has turned into a formal 501 (c)(3) non-profit based in Washington, DC working with numerous communities on the, too often ignored, island of La Gonave. Since becoming an organization, Roots of Development has mobilized thousands of grassroots supporters throughout the United States, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for sustainable development projects, and brought a unique approach to the world of development.

The Timeline…

In 2005

In May 2005, Chad Bissonnette, Roots of Development’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, took his first trip to Haiti. He went down with no other objective than to be introduced to another country. He was still an undergraduate student at American University in Washington, DC, and had no intention of starting a non-profit. To him, Haiti was another interesting country in the world that could open his eyes, and teach him a bit more about the value of life.

The community he was introduced to was Gran Sous, on the island of La Gonave. It was very poor and lacked the most basic resources including electricity, roads, decent housing, standard educational opportunities, and access to health care—all these issues just an hour and a half from Miami. The residents of the community were aware of what they lacked and expressed to Chad a deep desire to change the situation. While Chad was frustrated by the situation, he was not there for any other purpose than to get to know another place, another group of people in the world. He eventually left, not expecting to return.



In 2006

In July 2006, however, with the strange feeling that there was something else for him to do there and a desire to learn more about Haiti, Chad returned to Gran Sous. When he returned, he found the community in the same situation they had been in a year earlier. It caused him to begin thinking about the consequences of potentially connecting resources back home to the community there in Haiti. He proposed his idea to a small group of community leaders, who appreciated his idea and called for a community meeting. With a diverse representation of the community present, residents began thinking of a single project that could have an impact on the majority of the community, and whose maintenance would not depend too much on Chad and his resources.

Many ideas were shared but it was the thought of cleaning up the municipal water source that got the most attention, and became the goal of Chad’s fundraising efforts.


In 2007

In January 2007, Chad wrote a letter to as many friends and family as he could think of to tell them of the relationship he had formed with Gran Sous, and their decision to address their water issues. Appreciating the manner in which the relationship began between Chad and the community, and the feeling that a real impact would be made motivated friends and family to start sending contributions of all different sizes.

In June 2007, after raising more money than expected and a third trip to Haiti, Chad began thinking about the idea of actually packing up and moving down to Gran Sous to be with the community as it walked through the water project.

In September 2007, without a job, without knowing a word of the language, or what would be expected of him and how long it would last, Chad packed up and moved to Gran Sous. He spent the first three months learning Creole, adapting to the extremely basic living conditions, and focusing most of his energy on building trust and confidence between he and the community.

Just before he left, a friend of Chad’s from college, Lindsey Walker, convinced him to think more seriously about forming a non-profit to support his fundraising efforts. She offered to help with the necessary paperwork and the incorporation of the non-profit while Chad was in Haiti.

In November 2007, Gran Sous Cooperative (Roots’ original name) was officially incorporated as a non-profit in the State of Georgia. This took place in Georgia because Lindsey was living there at that time and Chad did not have an address in the U.S.

From September 2007 to August 2008, Chad lived in Haiti working with the community of Gran Sous to acquire potable water. Months were spent collecting data, surveying the area, designing a plan, collecting materials, and preparing the site. In total, 250-feet of iron piping and an 18,000-liter tank for treatment were built with the help of three Ecuadorian engineers. It was a huge community effort.







In 2008

In June 2008, Chad and Lindsey decided on a change of name for the organization. Gran Sous Cooperative became Roots of Development. The official name change is filed with the State of Georgia.

With the excitement over the successful completion of the water project in August 2008, both the residents of Gran Sous and the donors back in the U.S. began asking what’s next?! Four other communities had begun asking to get involved, so the community and Chad sat down together, just before he left for the States, to discuss their priorities.

When Chad moved back to the U.S., he found himself faced with a non-profit on paper but no real structure. His first decision was to identify a group of 8-9 people with diverse backgrounds to create an advisory board (now called the “Task Force”) that could help him get Roots to a level in which it could meet the new demands of the communities in Haiti.

In October 2008, Roots was recognized by the IRS as a public charity and obtains 501(c)(3) status, making donations to the organization tax-deductible.

In 2009

A year later, in October 2009, the decision was made to “move” Roots to Washington, DC. With Lindsey moving out of Georgia, and Chad’s return to DC, Roots of Development was incorporated in the District and the Georgia entity begins to go through the process of dissolution.

In December 2009, Roots of Development (Washington, DC) obtains 501(c)(3) status with the IRS.



Chad W. Bissonnette, Co-founder and Executive Director
Chad holds a bachelors degree in International Relations from American University in Washington, DC. Before graduating from American however, Chad spent a year at Emerson College in Boston, MA, studying PR/Marketing, and two years in Spain teaching for the Spanish Government and acquiring a diploma in Hispanic Language and Culture Studies from the University of Salamanca. Chad began traveling to Haiti in 2005 and co-founded Roots of Development in 2007. He currently serves as its Executive Director, and is responsible for the creation and implementation of the organization’s unique approach to development. When in Haiti, Chad spends most of his time on the island of La Gonave, where his organization works with a set of communities determined to manage their own development. With the motto “Development without Dependency”, Chad speaks regularly about empowerment and community-driven development and his work in Haiti, at high schools and universities along the East Coast. He has also written several articles on those subjects in the Huffington Post. Chad grew up in Connecticut, and has traveled and lived a substantial amount of time overseas (Spain, South Africa, Brazil, Haiti, etc.). He speaks English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. Chad currently resides in Washington, DC.


Hubert Normil, Programming Advisor
Hubert is a local and community development specialist. He earned a master’s degree in Community Development in France, and has over 20 years of work experience. Over these past 20 years, Hubert has had the opportunity to work with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), Oxfam, World Vision, CRWRC, and several other international organizations and agencies. He is a founding member of CDECH (Centre de Développement et de Croissance Humaine), an organization supporting community development efforts in Haiti. And while Hubert is Haitian, he splits his time between Haiti and Canada, where his wife and two sons live. Hubert’s passion is to work alongside people and communities, to help them bring about sustainable change.




Montgomery Erwin [Vice-President] is a retired businessman.  He owned Surety Company of the Pacific in California, which for many years was the leading writer of the state mandated contractor’s license bond, with a 55% market share (144,000 bonds in force).  He had exclusive experience with the California legislature and state regulators given the statutory nature of the company’s core business.  Mr. Erwin joined the family owned company in 1974 and sold it in 2009.  Before beginning his career at the Surety Company Monty was a professional DJ for two years in Arizona.  Mr. Erwin has a Bachelor’s Degree in political science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  He is on the Big Brothers Big Sisters board of directors of Southeastern Connecticut, and is also involved with Sons of Lwala (Kenya) where his niece works at their clinic and local schools.  Mr. Erwin visited Lwala in July.


Sara Guderyahn [Secretary] is the Director of the Chicago/Midwest Region for Education Pioneers. With ten years of professional work experience, Sara has a strong track record of building powerful networks, developing strategic partnerships, reaching out to public forums and engaging the social entrepreneurship and philanthropic sectors. Prior to working for Education Pioneers, Sara worked with The Sheridan Group in Washington, DC, where she partnered with non-profits in both the domestic and international sectors. Some of her accomplishments include launching the nation’s first advocacy coalition against human trafficking, and developing and passing federal policy authorizing state waivers to utilize federal funding to develop innovative alternative services for children in the foster care system. Before that, Sara was part of the ContactTrust in Cape Town, helping to bridge the divide between South African parliamentarians and newly formed nongovernmental organizations. Sara also spent a period of time working on education and health care issues for Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL). Sara has her undergraduate degree in government and economics and holds a Masters in Applied Political Science from American University.


James O. Martin [President] is a retired astronomer. He has been interested in Haiti since the 1970s and was introduced to Roots of Development in 2007. Mr. Martin has served as the Director of the Naval Observatory in Perrine, FL, the Project Manager for the Radio Astronomy Supercomputer, and has sat on church boards involved in local and world issues. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1987, and helped expand the McClendon Center, a program to provide therapeutic day treatment to persons with mental illness, from a church mission serving forty people to an independent non-profit serving over 600 people at two locations. Mr. Martin has an A.B. from Cornell University and a M.A. from Indiana University.


Sak Pollert is a business owner and an active member of the Logan Circle and U Street communities in Washington, DC.  A native of Thailand, Mr. Pollert moved to Washington in 1991 to study English. He spent more than six years working in the Office of Educational Affairs for the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington before opening up a small business called Simply Home.  Mr. Pollert opened his first restaurant, Rice, in 2003, and has since opened “Stem,” and “DC Noodles.”  Mr. Pollert is a current member and former board member of the Mid City Business Association and is actively involved in various neighborhood organizations.  Mr. Pollert has a Bachelors degree in Economics from Chulalongkorn University.


A. Oğuz (Oz) Tolon [Treasurer] is a governance expert, serving as senior advisor at MSCI, Inc.’s ISS Corporate Services division, with seven years of experience in corporate governance and executive compensation practices. Prior to joining ICS, Tolon was a senior executive compensation analyst at Institutional Shareholder Services, and had led the Energy and Industrials Sector Teams at ISS with a specialty in executive compensation and takeover defense research. He is author of industry shaping policies and research, including a 2012 white-paper on Golden Parachutes, a 2011 report on Special Meetings & Written Consent, as well as a 2009 report on Executive Perquisites at Companies in the Industrial Sector. His proxy research on companies such as General Electric and Textron have been referenced in the Wall Street Journal. Prior to joining ISS as a research analyst in 2006, Tolon worked in mortgage banking and accounting. A fluent Turkish speaker, Tolon graduated summa cum laude from The George Washington University with dual degrees in finance and international business in 2005, and is currently pursuing an MBA degree at Georgetown’s McDonough School of business where he is ranked top in his class.


**Former Board

Clara Benice
Marian Bissonnette
Martin Bissonnette
Sara Chase
Linda Collyer*
Jessica Desvarieux
Tricia Desvarieux
Ariel Dominique
Doris Gordon*
Lynn Haney
James Heilman
Kaylee Hultgren
Christian Jabon
Geoffrey Kurgan*
Pat Leavens*
Michael Lowry**
Rahul Mitra
Laura Montas
Magalie Pradel
Ana Maria Saiz
Kristy Stoesz**
Vinay Thakur*


Bethany Natoli, Director of Outreach & Partnerships
Brian Averill, Executive Assistant
Yee Chen, Engineer
Kate Hartman, Executive Assistant

Grace Cerand
Molly Morley
Naomie Pierre-Louis
Weronika Dabrowski
Delaney Dorsey
Cole Hogan
Marie Nathalie Oberti
Jacqui Scibior
Kathryn Cassibry
John Favini
Sarah Finkel
Kristina Villavicencio
Priscilla Kasper
Julien Gustinelli
Jack Bressor
Ashley Holt
Amanda Pascal
Kyara Renelus
Farley Sawyer
Tess Waldrop
Nina Avis

A major part of Roots of Development’s mission is to help communities come together and better organize themselves so that they can fully utilize the skills, knowledge, and resources they possess to complete life-changing projects. The communities we work with are then able to choose, build, manage, and maintain their own projects. In other words, they decide their own future. In the end our partner communities don’t just end up with a new building, they end up with a stronger voice, greater influence, and a whole lot more independence. There is no better example of this than with our partners in Haiti, APDAG (The Villager’s Association for the Development and Advancement of Gran Sous/La Gonave).


Whole Foods Market

Location: Nationwide

Website: www.wholefoodsmarket.com

Based in Austin, TX, Whole Foods Market is a grocery chain with stores across the country. They are a leader in their industry, selling organic and sustainable produce whenever possible. Working with organizations and communities, Whole Foods is committed to making a difference in the lives of others. Roots of Development’s relationship with Whole Foods began in the fall of 2011, and in 2012, Whole Foods stores across the Mid-Atlantic started selling reusable tote bags with the words “Empower Haiti” on them. Proceeds from each bag sold go to Roots of Development and our projects on the island of La Gonave.


“At Whole Foods Market, we are committed to supporting our communities and environment, and this mission extends to partnerships throughout the world, as well. In collaboration with Roots of Development, we are delighted to offer the new ‘Empower Haiti’ reusable shopping bag in stores across the Mid-Atlantic region. Through funds raised from sales of the bag, Whole Foods Market and our shoppers can help impoverished communities in Haiti acquire the financial resources and organizational skills they need to manage their own development.” – Angela Rakis, Whole Foods Market Mid-Atlantic Region Executive Coordinator. 

Location: Worcester, MA
Website: www.sevenhills.org/affiliates/global-outreach/

“In our international development work we rely on global partners who are efficient, effective in their activities, and above all inscrutable in all that they do. I have long admired Roots of Development for demonstrating a selfless approach to their humanitarian work while holding themselves, and others, to exceptionally high standards of ethical and performance outcomes. Roots of Development serves as an example of what all NGO’s who work to uplift the poorest of the poor should be.” – Dr. David A. Jordan, President, Seven Hills Global Outreach. Roots of Development is Seven Hills Global Outreach’s field partner in Haiti. Besides Haiti, they have partners in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Guatamala, Sierra Leone, and Kenya.

Location: Washington, D.C.
Website: www.iadb.org

The Inter-American Development Bank is the largest source of development financing for Latin America and the Caribbean. Roots of Development has built a strong relationship with the Bank, which has supported it through both in-kind and monetary donations. In fact, at the Bank’s 2011 Governor’s dinner (part of its annual meeting), President Moreno presented Roots with a sizable donation to support the work of GFDAG, the women’s group that is a member group of Roots’ main partner on La Gonave, APDAG.

Location: Washington, D.C. and Louisiana
Website: http://landrieu.senate.gov

“I am impressed by Roots of Development’s community-driven approach.” Senator Landrieu was at the heart of the US’s response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. She was the first to offer her support, and to do so she called on the citizens of Louisiana to mobilize and help in every they could. Senator Landrieu pushed to make sure that the U.S. government was supporting local Haitian businesses during the relief effort and that the input of Haitian-Americans in the rebuilding process was being taken seriously. She was in attendance at our 3rd Annual Washington, D.C. Fundraiser as a recipient of the Max Pulgar-Vidal Award.

Location: New York City, NY
Website: www.bradensummers.com

In February 2010, just three weeks after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, Braden Summers traveled with Roots of Development to the island of La Gonave to capture images of the damage and the state of Roots’ colleagues and projects. Since his return, Braden has been donating 100% of the sales of his photographs of Haiti to Roots of Development. To see his award-winning photography from his trip to Gran Sous, La Gonave (Haiti), visit www.bradensummers.com/Haiti.html. If you are interested in purchasing prints, please email us at info@rootsofdevelopment.org or visit our online store at http://store.rootsofdevelopment.org/.

Location: Boulder, CO
Website: www.bouldershares.org

BoulderShares has a mission to help coordinate resources, including supplies and funding for schools, homes for abandoned children, and communities in Haiti and the greater West Indies territory. They collaborate with government and non-governmental organizations, schools, churches, and medical personnel to support and change the lives of thousands of women and children. BoulderShares has partnered with Roots of Development to sponsor our annual fundraising events and support our work on the ground.

“Roots’ has such a great energy to it and a unique local connection with the community. Chad [Roots Co-founder and Executive Director] has such a great relationship with the community, it is a real gift. [Roots] does not try to come in and “fix” things, but rather listens to the community, and lets them drive the conversation and the change. [Chad] planted the seed, and now the work and efforts of the community are enabling it to grow.”-Leslie Sosnowski, Founder and President of BoulderShares



ROOTS OF DEVELOPMENT wants to know more about you and answer any questions you may have about our work.
How you can reach us:
Roots of Development
1325 18th Street, NW, Unit 303
Washington, DC 20036
Email: info@rootsofdevelopment.org
Phone: 202-466-0805

Please note: If you are interested in getting more involved with Roots, be sure to check out our volunteer page first. It includes a lot of helpful information for individuals interested in volunteering.