By Loïc Jasmin
When speaking of Haïti’s problems, one topic is sure to come up: The Brain Drain. The Brain Drain is an enormous issue for the majority of developing countries. Skilled workers emigrate to North America and Europe in search of a better tomorrow for themselves and for their families. Haïti, my country of origin, is a prime exporter of skilled labor and suffers greatly from the Brain Drain effect. This phenomenon constitutes a world in itself as it encompasses a variety of social & political issues that I do not intend to address. The fact is that many countries offer conditions far better than Haïti and still are suffering from massive losses in skilled workers. While bettering these conditions is crucial, it will not stop the outflow of educated Haitians to the United States & to other countries. I believe that stopping the Brain Drain is not something that can be done within the next twenty years. Countries with booming economies such as China are still suffering from it. To discuss the Haitian Brain Drain as something that can be stopped is, in my opinion, far ahead of where we are as a nation. For this reason, I will not be talking about the Brain Drain. Instead, I would like to illustrate how technology and young entrepreneurs can help the Diaspora better contribute to Haïti’s development today, despite the flight of these skilled workers outside of the country.
The inflow of remittances to Haïti is massive. This year alone, the Haitian Diaspora will send close to $2 Billion USD to Haïti. Individuals and groups of Haitians abroad send funds home religiously and their ties to relatives in the homeland remain strong throughout years of living abroad. Year after year, the inflow of remittances to Haïti rises steadily. The numbers are not volatile nor heavily dependent upon local politics or events. This makes the Diaspora one of the most steady, lucrative markets for Haitian entrepreneurs. Why then, isn’t this space abound with a plethora of businesses and services?
Simply put, the technology we have at hand today was not available ten years ago. Today, we are completely connected to our friends and relatives in Haïti and abroad through the Internet. As a generation, we have access to simple website builders, payment processors, instant messaging sites and applications. These tools have created incredible opportunity for new business ventures in almost every area of the Haitian economy, particularly in the remittance sector.
So what is stopping us? Banking regulations are not working in favor of Haïti or the CARICOM as a whole. Since 9/11, the Patriot Act has enforced a great deal of regulation on the flows of money going out of the United States (US). These steps were taken to monitor the movements of US money and stop the funding of terrorist organizations. Because of these new rules, banks are applying strict regulations to their Caribbean correspondent banks’ accounts, who are scrambling to do the necessary due diligence to keep these accounts active. Most Haitian banks are “correspondent banks”; this means they are simply representatives of larger, foreign banks in Haïti. Because of the regulations applied to them, these larger banks have to be able to explain the activity on their Haitian accounts. Lack of infrastructure & information in the Haitian market makes it harder to pinpoint fraudulent transactions, which exposes these larger banks to hefty fines and penalties when they are audited. To an increasing number of institutions, the Haitian & Caribbean market is simply not worth the risk.
So how does all of this affect us? Well, a direct consequence of these issues is the fact that no online payment processor can currently be linked to a Haitian bank account. Even Paypal, which is available in 202 countries, is unavailable in Haïti. This makes it particularly difficult for Haitian entrepreneurs to create online businesses. Additionally, this means money transmitter businesses have to charge higher fees to the Diaspora for the sending of remittances, as they have to account for added operational expenses & the higher fees associated with smaller banks they are forced to move their business to.
Picture this: If the Diaspora could buy online and pay directly into Haitian bank accounts instead of sending money, the cost of sending money to Haïti could drop from 7.5% of the amount sent (Reference: https://remittanceprices.worldbank.org/en/corridor/United-States/Haiti) to 1.5%. In a 2 Billion dollar a year market, that 6% drop in fees represents $USD 120 Million that would be going straight to local Haitian businesses instead of large foreign banks and institutions.
Once we find a way around these issues, we will have opened the gates to endless opportunities & exponential growth of our economy through technology and e-commerce. Crypto-currencies and e-wallet services are slowly starting to offer alternatives that developing countries such as ours can use to create these businesses despite the system in place, but their success is not complete. While this is not a sexy headline or something that is quick to explain, it is important for us young Haitians to understand. Breaking down the wall between the Diaspora and Haitian businesses could very well be the driving force for the rebuilding of a strong Haïti.
Skilled workers will continue to leave their home countries to seek a better life; but with the right tools in hand, they can be an active driving force in the rebuilding of a strong nation. The Haitian Diaspora can and should be an asset to our country from abroad. To do so, it needs us, the new generation of Haitian businessmen and women, lawmakers and politicians to understand the intricacies of the relationship between the two sides and create synergies through which they can work seamlessly as one.
This, I believe, can be done.
Mercredi 10 août 2016