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 be able achieve the level of independence it deserves.
Click here to read OUR VISION
Click here to read OUR MISSION
Roots of Development helps communities become stronger and more independent by providing support in three (3) key areas:
- The building of sustainable infrastructure in the community (clean water facilities, public latrines, community meeting space, etc.)
- The establishment of community businesses that create jobs and become sources of revenue for the community
- And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, the strengthening of the community’s capacity and skill sets that allow it to more effectively manage its activities (via trainings on leadership, strategic planning, business management, conflict resolution, bookkeeping, monitoring and evaluation, etc.)
Click here to read OUR PHILOSOPHY
For us, Development must be…
1. COMMUNITY-DRIVEN (bottom-up instead of top-down).
This pertains to the way projects are chosen and then carried out, as well as the way projects are funded.
a. Decision-making. Roots of Development encourages the community itself to identify its greatest need rather than imposing that choice on them. Through a collective decision-making model involving diverse representatives of the community (men, women, old, young, secular, and non-secular), the community identifies and prioritizes their most basic needs. Once a single initiative is decided upon, they then move forward collectively to tackle all of the project’s objectives. In this way, the people most affected by the decisions being made are the ones making them, thus embedding true ownership as the project evolves.
b. Funding. The level of priority a project is given, or the way a project is carried out should not depend on the amount of money the supporting organization or institution is willing to allocate to it. Instead, the amount of money allocated to the project should depend on the amount necessary to complete the desired project, in its entirety and in a way that it is most effective.
Community-driven development is an essential approach to improving the situation in Haiti and other impoverished countries. It is about empowerment and genuine ownership over one’s own development. Many NGOs claim to promote it, but in reality, few support it to the level at which it is becomes truly effective. In an effort to make the work we support more sustainable, we make sure that every project is selected and prioritized by the community, staffed by Haitians whenever possible, and coordinated with local government officials.
2. An emphasis on the PROCESS over the final product.
Simply completing a community health or water project (what we refer to as a “final product”) can improve the standard of living for many, but it doesn’t make the achievement sustainable. We work with communities through the entirety of the project as they learn what it takes to identify resources, manage resources, resolve conflict, and effectively outline their objectives. These learning opportunities are part of “the process”. Once the steps become familiar to a community, it is then able to repeat the process and tackle other important initiatives without our assistance. Not only do these communities get the opportunity to learn what it takes to manage their own development, but they are then able to use their knowledge and experience to support neighboring communities.
To best respect and have the greatest impact on the communities we work with, we provide resources in a way that supports a sustainable process, instead of an unsustainable series of final products.
An emphasis on the PROCESS will improve the results of development, because it…
- Increases the level of sustainability
- Decreases the potential degree of dependency
- Increases the chances of replicability
- Reduces corruption by increasing transparency & accountability
- Leads to better allocation of resources.
For greater insight into how you can promote and/or implement strong community-driven development, visit our Recipe For Development page.
If you are an individual or a group that is truly committed to helping impoverished populations improve their conditions and gain greater independence, use our Recipe For Development to strengthen how you provide such support. Use it as a tool for carrying out development that is founded on respect, and dedicated to sustainability.
Click here to read Roots' RECIPE FOR DEVELOPMENT
I. Definition of sustainable development
II. The overall goal
III. Ingredients for sustainable development and sustainable community-driven development
IV. Indicators of success
V. Cultural concepts to be aware of
VI. Step-by-step instructions on building strong, independent communities
I. To benefit everyone involved, development should always be carried out in a sustainable manner with the goal of only producing sustainable results. Our DEFINITION OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT is “efforts that meet the needs of the present while simultaneously increasing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
If the development efforts you are supporting only help a population meet its immediate needs and don’t help provide the population with an opportunity to address those needs again in the future on its own, it is actually relief work or simply charity, not development.
II. THE OVERALL GOAL should be for your support to eventually no longer be needed. To do this, you want to focus on helping the communities you support become more independent, both organizationally and financially.
This can be achieved by emphasizing three areas:
- Helping the community build needed sustainable infrastructure (clean water facilities, public latrines, community meeting space, etc.)
- Helping the community establish community-run businesses that create jobs and become sources of revenue
- And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, helping the community build its organizational capacity and skill sets (strategic planning, business management, conflict resolution, bookkeeping, monitoring and evaluation, etc.)
III. INGREDIENTS needed for sustainable development:
- THE ROOT ISSUE. Identify and address the root issue of a problem, instead of secondary issues that are only results of an even deeper problem (the root issue).
- AN UNDERSTANDING OF EXISTING SYSTEMS. Recognize and respect already-established systems.
- INDEPENDENCE. Only support projects or activities that provide a group with greater independence. Avoid projects that will only continue to exist if there is a continuous flow of resources from you or your organization.
- LOCAL RESOURCES. Identify and value local resources, because using them ensures greater sustainability and therefore greater success.
- OWNERSHIP. Maximize the ownership a community has over every aspect of a project.
[ADDITIONAL] INGREDIENTS needed for sustainable community-driven development:
- DIVERSE LEADERSHIP. Diversify leadership to include as many different stakeholders from the community as possible.
- A GROUP DECISION-MAKING PROCESS. Establish a group decision-making process in which the majority rules.
- A POLICY OF INCLUSION. Promote a policy of inclusion to prevent individuals from feeling like they are excluded from getting involved.
- TRANSPARENCY. Emphasize the importance of maintaining a transparent environment throughout the collaborative process so that trust between community members doesn’t deteriorate.
- A STRONG ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE. Take the time to help the community build a strong organizational structure.
- A WELL-UNDERSTOOD ROLE. Understand your role, and limit it to the parameters that come with that role. Make sure the role is a supportive one, not a managing role.
IV. INDICATORS that will help measure the growth and level of independence a community has attained:
- An increased level of trust between group members, as well as between the groups and the residents they serve.
- Improved communication within the community group itself, as well as between them and the communities they serve and other “development actors” (NGOs, etc.) in the area.
- A sharing of leadership so that one individual is not valued more than another and so that the various different stakeholders all have a role in the decision-making process.
- A strong and transparent bookkeeping (financial) system that includes comprehensive budgets, financial reports, and evaluations.
- An increase in the amount of solutions being offered to resolve a problem, or accomplish a goal.
V. CULTURAL COMPLEXITIES to be aware of when working in development:
- Minimizing Risk vs. Maximizing Profit: The clash of two cultures
- Underestimating the importance of good communication and transparency
- A fight for resources (consequences of having to be on survival mode)
- Accepting foreign ideas too quickly. Impoverished populations can sometimes give greater value to foreign ideas and resources simply because they are foreign, which can be counter productive because of the cultural understanding they lack.
- Commit to clearly defined roles and do not overstep, otherwise it can quickly cause confusion, subversion, and a break down of the system.
- As a foreigner, do not have in-country meetings with potential partners on your own (even if it is more efficient). Bring members of the community you are working with to these meetings in order to ensure equal value is given to all parties involved. (Helps legitimize the community that unfortunately sometimes lacks legitimacy in the potential partner’s eyes).
- Pace of work (or “progress”) will vary
- Understand the consequences of individuals (from the community) being asked to do new things; with new resources; on a larger scale; with new expectations
VI. STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS on building strong, independent communities:
PHASE I: Establishing the relationship
Step 1. Get acquainted with the community with whom you may partner.
- Be aware of the relationship between the community/group and the person/group who introduces you to them. Observe which type/s of residents you are introduced to, and more importantly, which types you are not introduced to (not included in the introduction).
- If possible, allow time for the community/group to better know who you are and why you want to help. Build trust, as trust, honesty, and familiarity are key components to a successful relationship moving forward. Conversations, sometimes tough, are easier when each party is comfortable with each other.
- Take the opportunity to listen to residents, find out who the local leaders are and why they are the leaders and how they function.
- Observe what systems/structures are already in place (they may not seem terribly efficient or effective to you but it is important to recognize they are there as well as how and why they function.
Step 2: Through the local leadership, ask for a community meeting with as many diverse representatives of the community as possible. Discuss the greatest challenges of the community, listen to their goals for development, and help them begin the project selection process.
- Share the factors that are important to you when selecting a project:
- It will benefit as many people in the community as possible (as many diverse “stakeholders” in the community as possible).
- It will not lead to a relationship in which they will become too dependent on us.
- It will be part of the greater development plan (help get closer to the overall goal).
- It was agreed upon by the majority of the group.
- Begin working with the community to understand the project in the context of a larger plan for development.
- Identify each “actor” (real and potential) that will have a role in the life of the project (including the process), and the responsibilities each will hold.
- Work with them to recognize what resources they already have around them that may help them accomplish their goals.
PHASE II: The creation of a community development group
The creation of a community development group should happen somewhat organically. The idea of forming such a group (as a natural next step) should come from the community. The first residents to become volunteer members of the community development group will likely be individuals already in positions of leadership, and other highly driven members of the community. It will likely be necessary to re-iterate the importance of having, and maintaining, diverse representatives of the community in the group. This means the inclusion of males, females, young, old, individuals with different levels of education and different types of employment experience, church-goers, non-church-goers, etc.
Step 1. Begin helping them establish a strong inner organizational structure. Dedicate a significant amount of time to activities and discussions that build the group’s capacity and help them acquire the skills that will lead to greater independence.
Make it a goal to find and connect the group with in-country* trainers that can carry out the following types of workshops with the group:
- Strategic Planning
- Soliciting and Building Partnerships
- Project Management
- Small Business/Entrepreneurship (also see “PHASE IV”)
Communities know what they want to achieve but often have a hard time figuring out how to identify and then organize the steps that it will take to achieve it. Strategic planning workshops will help them learn this skill. Leadership workshops will help them improve how they work with each other as well as with the rest of the population. Strong leadership skills are extremely important to community development groups because most of their programming relies on large amounts of community volunteers. It is important that they know how to effectively mobilize residents, and then lead them productively. To become independent, a community development group must become familiar with what it takes to manage projects from start to finish and to find the support necessary to complete their project goals. Both project management workshops and trainings in soliciting and building partnerships will help a community development group gain greater capacity and, in turn, achieve greater independence.
*It is okay to have experienced foreign trainers carry out the workshops, but in-country trainers are preferred because of the cultural awareness they possess.
PHASE III: Absorbing the inclusion of member groups (the transformation into an association) [Coming Soon]
PHASE IV: Basic needs programming and community business initiatives
In order to equip the community development group with the tools it needs to independently manage and maintain its own development, it is important to focus on three key areas: Capacity-building (see PHASE II), Basic Needs Programming, and Community Business Initiatives.
Step 1. Support projects that address the most basic needs of a community.
Communities in the developing world lack many of the basic services necessary for residents to live fair and productive lives. Community development does not take hold easily when the majority of residents are sick, hungry, and without an appropriate roof over their head. Capacity-building will increase the capabilities of a community, but it won’t directly provide a community with food or homes, or access to basic health care or adequate education. Make sure, however, that the basic needs programming you support will benefit as many people in the community as possible; will not lead to dependency; will help the community get closer to their overall goal; and was agreed upon by the majority of the community (or group). Originally outlined in Step 2 of PHASE I.
Step 2. Invest in projects that involve the creation of community businesses.
While it is important to support projects that address basic needs, these projects will not improve, at least not directly, the economic situation in the area. The profits of these businesses do not benefit a single resident or group of residents, instead they benefit the community as a whole. Establishing businesses in the community will not only support the local economy by creating jobs and increasing local spending, but also significantly increase the independence of the community development group by providing it with a source of funding to maintain past projects and fund new ones.
PHASE V: Replicating the process elsewhere [Coming Soon]
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.
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 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.
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 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 bachelor’s degree in International Relations from American University in Washington, DC. During his undergraduate education, he spent a year at Emerson College in Boston, MA, and two years in Spain teaching for the Spanish Government. While in Spain, he obtained a diploma in Hispanic Language and Culture Studies from the University of Salamanca. Before completing his undergraduate degree, Chad was a participant in American University’s Washington Semester Program. The focus of his semester was International Environment and Development, and included a three-week practicum in Brazil, observing the affects of diverse environment and development initiatives throughout the country. Chad began traveling to Haiti in 2005 and co-founded Roots of Development in 2007. He currently serves as its Executive Director. Chad formally speaks about Community Development and his work in Haiti regularly, 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 lived a substantial amount of time overseas (Spain, South Africa, Haiti, etc.). He currently resides in Washington, DC.
Brian Averill, Executive Assistant
Brian is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in History and Africology. In 2011, he was elected to the Board of the Haitian Studies Association. He has engaged in advocacy work for the ONE Campaign, Oxfam America, 9 to 5 National Working Women’s Association, and Witness. Brian has been traveling to Haiti since January, 2007, working with organizations in the areas of ecological sanitation, micro-finance, historical preservation, and cultural preservation. After graduating, he lived in New Zealand for a year performing a variety of odd jobs, including a month long voyage at sea working on a fishing boat.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Montgomery Erwin 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 [President] 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 [Treasurer] 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 [Vice-President] 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.
Mark Summers is the President of CNC Software Inc., a family business he helped found in 1983, developing a CAD CAM software, which primarily drives CNC machine tools. The company employs 125 people and sells software in approximately 50 countries. Mr. Summers’ interest in energy efficiencies extends into various parts of his life. His home and office buildings have been heated and cooled by ground source heat pumps for 20 years and 25% of the office building’s heat and electricity consumption is solar-powered. Mr. Summers serves on both his town’s Energy Task Force and on the Board of Directors for a small start-up software company. Mr. Summers has an Associate’s degree in Manufacturing and Engineering. Mark is married and has five children. He enjoys running, biking, skiing, traveling, gardening, woodworking, and testing his company’s software.
A. Oğuz (Oz) Tolon 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.
VOLUNTEER TASK FORCE
Ana Maria Saiz
Whole Foods Market
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.
SEVEN HILLS GLOBAL OUTREACH
Location: Worcester, MA
“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.
INTER-AMERICAN DEVELOPMENT BANK
Location: Washington, D.C.
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.
SENATOR MARY L. LANDRIEU
Location: Washington, D.C. and Louisiana
“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.
BRADEN SUMMERS PHOTOGRAPHY
Location: New York City, NY
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Huffington Post – “Build On What They Have: Ownership and Development in Haiti”
- The Huffington Post- “A New Mandate for Development in Haiti”
- Voice of America – “Sware Gala Nan Washington Pou Rejyon Gransous nan Lagonav” [Creole]
- Voice of America – “Abitan Nan LaGonav Met Ansanm pou Bati yon Kominote Pi Djanm” [Creole]
- DC Hot Spots – 2012 “A Taste of Haiti Fundraiser”
- DC Modern Luxury – 2012 “A Taste of Haiti Fundraiser”
- Examiner – Whole Foods Market & Roots of Development: “Empower Haiti” reusable bags
Roots of Development
1325 18th Street, NW, Unit 303
Washington, DC 20036
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.