Magalie Dresse is helping Haiti move beyond handouts

Former US President Bill Clinton says he’s proud to be her friend. Oprah Winfrey sings her praises. And the American fashion mogul Donna Karan says that her tireless work in uplifting the lives of her fellow Haitians has been extraordinary.

MagalieMagalie Dresse, born and raised in Haiti,  has nothing against receiving praise from the rich and famous, and she’s grateful for their support. But on a recent visit to the company she runs here in Port-au-Prince Caribbean Craft, which designs and manufactures arts and crafts products for foreign markets – it was clear that her heart and soul are with the people of Haiti, especially those who have been hit hardest by decades of political instability, civil unrest, health crises, and natural disasters.

Ms. Dresse speaks quickly and easily, switching between English and French, with some Creole thrown in. She smiles often, clearly energized by her work and her workers. She describes her for-profit business as being “socially responsible,” as do others. And she welcomes support from overseas.

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But in the long run, she says, Haiti will only prosper in the fullest sense of the word when it can reduce its dependence on foreign handouts and instead attract more foreign investment.

Foreign investors have shown growing interest in Haiti, according to a June 2014 report from the US State Department. Private investment has continued to increase, reaching a 10-year high in 2013 and outpacing spending from foreign aid by more than 100 percent.

The United States supports foreign business investment in Haiti. But the State Department report has also raised red flags. It noted that the investment climate in Haiti remains “favorable” but that the favorable outlook depends on the continuation of legal and structural reforms. These reforms, it said, have been seriously hindered by years of political uncertainty.

Further reforms and improvements in the business climate are “necessary to transform this interest into meaningful investment,” the report said.



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