Gloucester City Hall
Relief and Development in Haiti
The January 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, the Caribbean’s poorest, and left 220,000 dead, 300,000 injured, and two million homeless. Schools and hospitals were destroyed, the main air and sea ports were badly damaged, and debris blocked access to the worst hit areas. The human needs and challenges were enormous. Donations poured in along with thousands of volunteers in a chaotic and often disorganized relief effort. Many lives were saved but money was wasted and opportunities were missed.
Karen Keating Ansara, who with her husband Jim launched a Haiti Fund within hours of the disaster and remained engaged throughout the years since, now asks what lessons can would-be donors and volunteers take from Haiti. She boils her takeaways down to three: “Focus on partners, not plans. Focus on empowerment, not impact. And focus on depth, not breadth.”
“I care far less about measurable impact and much more about signs of empowerment,” says Ansara. “Have our grants helped Haitians find their own voices? Have we enabled and ennobled grassroots leaders to articulate their own visions and celebrate their own collective assets? Have we held these leaders and their organizations to the highest standards of ethics, professionalism, and practice—and given them the tools, training and trust needed to achieve their greatest aspirations for themselves and their communities?”
“I have learned to peel off the layers of the onion in a local context instead of trying to go quickly to scale—because poverty is undeniably multi-layered,” she adds. “It’s not just about lack of income, lack of infrastructure, lack of education, lack of health care, or lack of any particular resource.
“Poverty may also be perpetuated by entrenched social norms, by structural and internalized oppression, by lack of a political voice or right to hold one’s government accountable. I have seen that all of these layers must be addressed for an individual or a community to move forward.”
Karen and Jim Ansara founded the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation in 2010, a five-year project to make grants in Haiti and in Boston’s Haitian community that winds up this year. She is also co-chair of the Advisory Board for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a co-founder of the New England International Donors (NEID), and a member of the board of Partners in Health and the Leadership Council of Oxfam America. Here on Cape Ann, she serves on the boards of the Essex County Community Foundation and Harborlight Community Partners.
Ansara holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Wellesley College, a masters in Divinity from Andover Newton Theological School, and an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Salem State College. She has also been trained in strategic philanthropy by the Philanthropy Workshop West.