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Bon Bagay: Good Stuff, Great Karma, and Giving Back in Haiti

By Kim Rodriguez December 4, 2014

Shortly after a catastrophic earthquake in 2010, Salesforce pledged to support Haiti by donating free licenses to local organizations, to enable in-region businesses to focus their efforts on rebuilding the lives of the 3 million people who were directly affected by the disaster. Last month, on November 9th of 2014, a group of Salesforce employees set out for Port-au-Prince to continue our pledge of support.

Stephane Maurin, Leah McGowen-Hare, Heidi Connal, and I had been sponsored by Salesforce.org to spend one week in Haiti to visit with local nonprofits, assess current and future needs, implement solutions, and advice on how technology could further support their missions. Upon meeting the team for the first time, it was as if I was in the presence of long time friends who were inextricably linked by a shared passion. With our twitter and Salesforce1 accounts at the ready to record our journeys, we talked through the evening about last year’s visit to Haiti, what we could accomplish, and eagerly anticipated meeting our local partners.

Salesforce volunteers in Haiti

On our way to meet the first nonprofit partner, the convoy snaked through mountainside roads filled with colorful, newly-built homes, and street vendors selling pottery, furniture, and steel crafts. Because the bustling capital city of Port-au-Prince lies only 15 miles from the epicenter of the 2010 quake, it suffered major infrastructure damage leading to hundreds of thousands of displaced survivors. On the heels of the disaster, J/P Haitian Relief Organization mobilized teams to address emergency response needs.

Today, the organization has expanded its camp and relocation services to revitalize local Haitian communities through initiatives such as building schools, running medical clinics, providing livelihood trainings, and other community development efforts. As part of our daily work sessions with J/P HRO, we had the opportunity to visit a family living in one such camp. Here, we walked through a step by step demonstration of the process of relocation which was executed through a mobile application created by TaroWorks on the Salesforce platform. As we stood in the camp, in the midst of makeshift homes made of corrugated tin and other scavenged materials, the hope and promise of relocation for these families was palpable. Armed with the organization’s long term vision and our first hand experiences, the team set out to train the organization’s IT resources, identify and execute on quick wins, and build out a long term road map for how to best leverage the Salesforce platform.

Volunteering in Haiti

Later in the week, our team had the opportunity to visit two schools in Haiti. The first visit was to The Haitian Project and its Louverture Cleary School, a tuition-free boarding school for gifted students whose families would otherwise not be able to support their children’s education. Here, a junior staff member named Coqmard, and two students (Nadine and Jacob) gave us a tour of the school grounds and spoke about what it meant to be a Louverturian. What affected me most in our conversations was how proud the students were to be part of this extended family and how focused they were in paying it forward to another generation of bright minds in Haiti. I was struck by a quote by Gandhi, posted poignantly on one of the school walls – “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Later in the same day we collaborated with their director of the Office of External Affairs, Jean Roger Polidor, on how they could extend their Salesforce usage to alumni programs management, job opportunity and business partners tracking.

Salesforce to Haiti volunteering

The second school we visited was the Foyer Des Archanges School, a school for students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Foyer Des Archanges operates in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Haiti, and is one of 96 schools that have been rebuilt by the Happy Hearts Fund, an organization created by Petra Nemcova in 2004 to support schools in countries devastated by natural disasters. Here, our team received a tour of the school, which included a computer lab donated by Salesforce.org in 2013. We spent the afternoon doing art projects, playing pictionary, singing songs, taking selfies, and bonding with the kids through the international language of fun. In the midst of all the poverty in this area, it was heartening to see a hopeful place for children to safely and securely gain an education.

Volunteering in Haiti School

All three organizations continue in their missions to support and rebuild Haiti, and Salesforce continues to be a proud partner to each of these nonprofits. Technology plays a big part in mobilizing and enabling the players on the ground, and individuals who have the know-how to train local resources and implement the required technology are in high demand. We need your help! Please join us in this endeavor and contribute to the newly minted Haiti User Group on our Salesforce success community.

Today, almost two weeks after our trip to Haiti, all 4 team members still communicate often – reminiscing fondly of our times in Haiti, continuing the conversation on further support to the organizations we have visited, and supporting each other in the good works that we plan to endeavor. The Salesforce 1-1-1 model cultivates a growing group of philanthropists who challenge each other to make a difference in our own way. We want you to (1) start your own journey; (2) enable and inspire others to join us in the universal cause of Giving Back and (3) take the pro bono pledge on our Pro Bono site.