Photo by Braden Summers
Last week, Online Fundraising Software provider, DoJiggy, released its call for proposals in the 2010 DoJiggy Giving Award. We caught up with some of last years winners to hear their stories of success and inspire applicants for this year. Roots of Development (ROOTS) was awarded $1000 in the 2009 awards. Marian Bissonnette, a chief advisor for the organization, gave us some insight about their groundbreaking philosophy and continued progress.
ROOTS began as an idea borne of passion from Chad Bissonnette upon his first trip to Haiti in 2005. He was struck by the community of Gran Sous, on the island of La Gonave, and their deplorable living conditions. The motivation to work with that community, and help foster a development plan with them, would not let Chad rest. Thus, he embarked on a path that began with a grassroots letter writing campaign to family and friends, and arrived in 2009 to the full fledged non-profit organization that Roots of Development is today.
ROOTS philosophy describes an innovative approach that is being embraced rapidly by other programs throughout the world. It is helping to revolutionize development infrastructures in the current global theatre, where sustainability is a catch word often left on the stage and not truly implemented in practice. ROOTS philosophy focuses on the process rather than the final product. The community is given access to the resources necessary in managing their own development. It is a rooted infrastructure, working from the ground up rather than simply offering a band aid solution. For instance, in their initiative to create a clean water source for Gran Sous, ROOTS met with, and listened to, the community. They created a collective decision making model involving diverse local representatives. This model has proven greater success in development by achieving five main initiatives:
- An Increase in the level of sustainability
- A decrease in the potential degree of dependency
- An Increase in the chances of replicability
- Reduction in corruption by increasing transparency and accountability
- Better allocation of resources
Their success speaks loudly and is being heard. Chad regularly speaks at universities and libraries, the Bush/Clinton administration in Haiti has recognized ROOTS as the top small non-profit doing work in Haiti, and the Gran Sous community has achieved their own non-profit status, and receive members from communities who walk from miles away to consult on their programs. This new style of development is taking firm hold and realizing a growth that reaches far beyond the communities and culture of Haiti.
When ROOTS was awarded the DoJiggy Giving Grant, Haiti had just confronted a huge hurricane. The grant was used towards a project to rebuild houses on the island. In the wake of the most recent earthquake, Haiti and the community of Gran Sous are facing new challenges. Although the outpouring of aide to Haiti was an unprecedented feat of social media maneuvering and facilitation of immediate donations, much of the aide has been misappropriated to non-sustainable or non-dignified projects. As Marian points out, “Individuals should have a say in what kind of house they will live in. Many organizations are focusing on ecological designs and cost effective architecture, but forgetting about the dignity and choice of the people who will live there.” In addition, the cost of living has quadrupled, and a backlash to the intense immediate support is being seen in the lack of consistent funding.
Although ROOTS has noted that the younger generation is extremely generous and “giving back” seems to be more of an intrinsic trait, long term fundraising has been harder to maintain. In place of managing recurring donations, ROOTS has found that fundraising events are more successful. In September, they completed their second annual Roots ride and walk-a-thon. They were able to raise over $15,000 to continue the work on rebuilding homes. On October 28, ROOTS will realize their first New York fundraising event to be held at the P.P.O.W. gallery featuring the photography of Braden Summers taken in Haiti. With this event and continued hard work, they hope to extend their development model to a much needed focus on the access to and quality of education in Gran Sous. Although the ultimate goal of their model is to develop their presence out of existence, we wish them continued success and thanks for serving as an inspiration.