October 30, 2008

The Ingenuity of Human Nature

The ingenuity of human nature should never surprise any of us. I was pleased to read CNN's article, "Google swamped with 'great idea' submissions," which is about Google's Project 10 to the 100th to support "ideas to change the world, in the hope of helping as many people as possible." The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has committed $10 million to fund up to five ideas selected by their advisory board. I applaud Google's efforts in providing financial support to empower people to help others.

I am happy to see Google invest its financial success into others and I encourage other companies to support the potential of human knowledge. Through all of my travels in some of the most challenging markets, I am amazed to see the innovative ideas people create and the strength of the human spirit to do good. In a world where we tend to focus on the negative and destruction people have toward each other and their natural environment, it is vitally important to highlight and support the positive efforts people make as part of their everyday regiment. (Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/camera_rwanda/304301139)

While some will speculate that Google is using this initiative as a public relations ploy, I argue that Google's initiative is to truly support social responsibility. Advising companies of all sizes on business strategy and international growth management, I know many companies find it difficult to become more socially responsible when their efforts are not quantified on a profit and loss statement or balance sheet--particularly when business success is defined by net profit or earnings per share. Given these challenges, however, I hope other companies will replicate similar initiatives such as Google's Project 10 to the 100th to support people who possess innovative ideas on helping others, but lack the capital to implement their passion.

October 28, 2008

Haïti: Using Tourism as a Means for Sustainable Social and Economic Development

As explained in post, Haïti: Pearl of the Caribbean, despite the ongoing problems in Haïti, there are several beautiful destinations for visitors in this unique country. Growing a viable tourism sector could provide Haïti the economic and social tools to resolving many of its development needs. As part of my assessment project, I visited key locations the Haïtian Ministry of Tourism designated for tourism development and was provided with several documents and a presentation that collectively provided details to Haïti's tourism strategy.

The Tourism Ministry's impressive 94-slide presentation provided details of the vision and objectives of the tourism strategy. The presentation included statistical data of the number of tourists who visited Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean, both as a region and by a few selected countries. According to the statistics provided from the presentation, in 2005, Haïti had 110,000 visitors compared to 3.9 million, 3.7 million, 2.26 million, or 1.5 million in Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica, respectively. Regarding the number of hotel rooms, Dominican Republic (60,000), Puerto Rico (13,500), Cuba (50,000), and Jamaica (22,500) compared to Haïti's 800 rooms available to house its visitors.

Photo of the Port of Jacmel:
Marc Roger
Haïti's tourism strategy is based on three components: history, experience, and the environment, which provide a strong basis for establish an ecotourism industry. Other strengths to the tourism strategy include establishing a partnership between the Haïtian parliament and municipalities; strengthening private enterprises including private-public partnerships; drafting regional and international cooperation agreements; recognizing the need to train tourism professionals and create a national branding and marketing strategy; and developing channels for research funding.

The tourism development plans I reviewed are very comprehensive regarding urban planning and land use issues, but based on my assessment lack a realistic implementation timeline with measured benchmarks and defined clear accountable results. In addition to defining and establishing benchmarks, I recommend establishing a collaborative partnership among the other Haïtian governmental departments and integrate the tourism development strategy into a national strategy to ensure that tourism is balanced with broader economic, social, and environmental objectives at national and local levels. In other words, the tourism development strategy should serve as an anchor to rebuild and strengthen Haïti's education, health care, private sector, capacity building in the public sector, public infrastructure development and maintenance, and protection and restoration of natural resources.

This national strategy should be based on the knowledge of environmental and biodiversity resources and integrated with national and regional sustainable development plans. It should also enhance prospects for economic development and employment while maintaining protection of the environment.

To achieve maximum success, the planning and implementation process should be completely transparent to all stakeholders including government agencies, civil society, private business, and the general population. Moreover, the Haïtian government should encourage the development of partnerships with primary stakeholders and provide stakeholders with ownership shares in projects and a shared responsibility for success.

Photo of Ile à Vaches: Marc Roger
Branding and marketing is essential in promoting tourism in Haïti. The first step is defining a "corporate image" to promote a positive view for Haïti, in particular in terms of safety and security for travel and tourism. In addition, marketing various activities as part of an ecotourism package will provide value for the visitor.

Another hurdle the government will have to overcome is financing the strategic plan. By partnering with international aid agencies, foreign governments, the private sector, and most importantly, the Haïtian Diaspora abroad should engage in financing the implementation of the tourism plan. I recommend creating a foreign equity fund that will allow the Diaspora to collectively contribute and participate in developing and implementing the tourism strategy. Through this fund, the Diaspora will have an opportunity to take an active role in their home country's development while receiving a financial return to their investment.

The Diaspora would contribute up to 70 percent of the fund's assets while the Haïtian government, whether through financial reserves or foreign assistance, contribute the difference. A financial holding corporation would be formed with government officials and representatives from the Diaspora community serving on the board and third-party managers managing the assets.

Photo: Marc Roger
Despite the ongoing crises in Haïti, there are several great places to visit. I am impressed that the Haïtian government has a vision to grow an ecotourism industry and I appreciated the opportunity to assess their strategic plan. With the right tools and tactics, this strategic plan should serve as the centerpiece to a national sustainable development strategy.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

October 26, 2008

Haïti: Pearl of the Caribbean

Photo of Port Salut, Haïti: Aaron Rose
When you hear the word "Haïti," many of you may think of a country full of poor and starving people or the violence that has plagued the country for several years, but seldom do people associate Haïti with beautiful beaches or ecotourism. Sponsored by the Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas (FAVACA), I had the opportunity of working in Haïti in September 2007 to assess a tourism development strategy prepared by the Haïtian Ministry of Tourism. Ecotourism, specifically, was the focus of the strategy and I was able to visit Jacmel, Port Salut, and Cap-Haïtien, which the Tourism Ministry designated as key development locations. I am in the process of updating my assessment report, but I will summarize in two blog entries. This entry will focus on my one week visit and the subsequent entry will discuss the challenges of building a viable tourism industry in Haïti and using tourism as a catalyst to developing education, health care, public infrastructure, capacity building in the public sector, environmental protection policies, and a sustainable private sector.

Haïti has some of the world's most beautiful beaches. Surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, Port Salut is a small town in southern Haïti where local Haitians and tourists seek relaxation and tranquility. I stayed at Auberge du Rayon Vert, owned by Mr. Christian Barriere, is located approximately 100 yards from the beach (although not always enforced, it is illegal to construct a dwelling on Haïti's beaches). This small hotel provided me with impeccable service including a full service restaurant (grilled lobster and shrimp!!) and a small bar serving fine French cognac. If you are like me and need to stay connected with the outside world, the hotel, as many of the hotels I visited in Haïti, had wireless Internet access.

Jacmel, the capital of the department of Sud-Est, is known as Haïti's cultural capital. It is a port town with an estimated population of 40,000. Jacmel's unique architecture is similar to what one would find in New Orleans consisting of cast iron pillars and balconies. Jacmel boasts an active art scene with small galleries dotted throughout the city and has hosted successful film and music festivals. I stayed at the very modern Cap Lamandou Hotel, which offers a breathtaking view over the bay and surrounding mountains.

Photo of the Citadel: Aaron Rose
The northern port city of Cap-Haïtien has an estimated population of 130,000 and serves as the capital of Haïti's Nord department. Approximately 12 miles south of Cap-Haïtien will you find the historic Haïtian town of Milot and the remarkable Citadel, which is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere built by King Henri Christophe with the hard labor that may have cost up to 20,000 lives lost at the beginning of the 19th century to defend against invaders. Although it took thousands of slaves to construct the Citadel, it serves as a reminder of Haïti's long history of a nation created by free slaves on January 1, 1804, making Haïti the second oldest democracy in the Western Hemisphere.

Photo: Royal Caribbean International
Just a few miles west of Cap-Haïtien is Labadee®, Royal Caribbean's Port of Call, which provides a private oasis for visitors to experience Haïti's natural beauty. I was impressed with the services Royal Caribbean offers in Labadee® providing parasailing rides, kayak tours of the surrounding water, and the chance to purchase gifts from local merchants. Haïti's tourism strategy calls for the development of another Port of Call in Jacmel. As of October 25, 2008, Royal Caribbean is the only major cruise line making a Port of Call in Haïti.

Regarding security in Haïti, I felt safe traveling around the country, but there is a strong presence that security is very fragile. Roads throughout most of the country are in poor condition as Haïti as very few financial resources to regularly maintain them, but funding from governments like the Republic of China (Taiwan) has been used to construct a new road through Port Salut. I traveled by airplane from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien, but the airports are in need of vast improvements if Haïti is to welcome visitors from around the world. (I often heard of a development plan to modernize the airport in Cap-Haïtien, but no one could provide me with a timetable to implement this plan.) Similar to most markets, the cost of energy (fuel) is high, which creates it own challenges in tourism development, and electricity is unreliable and often absent except through diesel generators.

Even with the high level of poverty prevalent throughout the country, Haïti has the potential to building a vibrant tourism industry focusing on its unique culture, history, and environment. Given the myriad of development challenges Haïtians face, however, tourism should serve as a catalyst to developing education, health care, public infrastructure, and capacity building in the public sector. With the right strategy and implementation drivers, Haïti could be the Pearl of the Caribbean.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

October 25, 2008

Mobile Commerce Solutions

On October 23, 2008, CNET published an article, "Using a Mobile Phone as a Credit Card," about the growing use of "contactless payments" or near-field communications when making payments with their mobile phones. Another option to contactless payments are mobile commerce solutions such as PayPal Mobile. One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face in developing countries is a tight or nonexisting credit market or a shortage of hard currency. Mobile commerce solutions would serve as a viable tool for small and medium-sized enterprises in developing markets to facilitate sustainable growth and such services would promote currency transferability, improve business markets, and allow SMEs to grow and compete in a global market.

I encourage financial institutions to develop mobile commerce solutions for SMEs in developing markets, which will facilitate commercial transactions where credit markets are limited or hard currency is in short supply. Mobile phones has allowed people who were once isolated in their villages a portal to the outside world and the use of mobile phones is often the primary method of communications in the developing world and mobile banking is becoming more mainstream in many developed markets.

From my experiences working in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, I have yet to see mobile phones used as a means to conduct commercial transactions. We are just now seeing the vital role technology has in social and economic development, but with further development of applicable mobile applications, millions of people will have the necessary tools to overcome the challenges presented by a fragmented financial system often seen in the developing world.