01/19/2010 04:47 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Haiti: Building A Stronger Community Fabric

It has been hard to write about the loss and devastation since the earthquake in Haiti. As we all know, the first concern is search and rescue, medical care, food and water. Only after that can we begin to think about how to avoid similar human tragedy.

Six months ago, my company (Lulan) had an opportunity to feature artisans from Haiti with a prominent U.S. retailer. I researched and started initial partnerships with a few cooperatives. Sadly, I may not have the chance to meet them. Last week's earthquake decimated the workshops and currently, most of these people are missing.

We have seen these types of disasters before and know in our hearts that real stability comes from appropriate infrastructure integrated with a vital economy. The pairing of these two systems is essential to minimizing future loss of life.

First responders are already on the ground (Partners in Health, Red Cross, UNICEF) and others are planning to rebuild neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and community centers (Architecture for Humanity, AIDG and Concern Worldwide). But, the situation calls for more. With sustainable livelihoods and increased economic opportunities, safe and healthy communities can be maintained for the long-term.

At Lulan, we find by going into communities, focusing on local skills and materials already present in the culture, partnering with men and women artisans, paying fair wages and connecting them to a larger marketplace, the artisans become more than self-sufficient. They become savvy marketers who run successful businesses. Such people are more equipped to recover from natural disasters.
With stable incomes, access to savings and credit, marketable job skills, job training and control of resources, people can better withstand disaster interruptions.

Is this disaster not reminiscent of a previous disaster? New Orleans also lacked sufficient infrastructure and a strong economic foundation.

We have received calls and e-mails from individuals, businesses and groups who would like to make a difference in Haiti. Now is the time to collaborate and plan lasting systemic change. We have already partnered with Architecture for Humanity and are in discussions with other organizations and businesses. We invite retailers, international organizations and concerned individuals to join us as partners to create a strong economic engine in Haiti together.