The story of Ayiti Community Trust begins with long-time friends, Dr. Guerda Nicolas and Pierre Imbert, who reconnected after some years of working together in Boston. Both Guerda and Pierre were born and raised in Ayiti and immigrated to the U.S. to pursue educational and professional endeavors. Guerda had frequented various parts of Ayiti, raising awareness on mental health and building Rebâti Santé Mentale, a non-profit organization dedicated to establishing an effective mental health system in Ayiti. It was the 2010 devastating earthquake that brought Pierre back to the county and reunited the two. Through their eclectic conversations, a recurring theme emerged which centered on designing sustainable community development for Ayiti.
We watched as a vast number of international aid organizations slowly withdrew their work from the country, even in the midst of so much need. The sense of responsibility and civic duty incited the call to invite ‘Friends of Haiti,’ to bear witness to the beauty of Ayiti and the potential of its people. As we welcomed countless visitors, we came across many people who wanted to know, how the first Black independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, plummeted to its current state.
After countless hours of raw discourse, we conceptualized honest ways to answer this question, and more importantly, address it with pragmatic solutions. It wasn't long before we began traveling throughout Ayiti to: document the country’s assets, identify key elements of sustainable development, and engage committed and skillful community leaders. Authentic and meaningful exploration of the nation’s landscape was essential to establishing our three pillars: environment, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement, which serve to focus our scope and best engineer long-term and worthwhile impact.
As we organized and drafted concepts, we shared ideas with friends and family who offered valuable input. We knew that it would be critical to assemble a team of folks who were prepared to initiate a society of sustenance. Planning was coming together well, but we also wanted to learn from our global community; so, we spent a year researching and visiting models of community foundations in the Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and the U.S. These foundations had established endowment funds, which is a long-term investment fund that produces yields that can be used for operations and funding community projects. When we pitched the idea of building an endowment to Dave Lawrence, an astute leader and current A.C.T. board member, he too was convinced that if balanced with asset building, accountability and acknowledging people as our greatest resource, Haiti too could benefit from sustained investing.
Assembling A.C.T.’s founding board of directors can be characterized as an interconnected web, with each person sharing community and affinity in some way. Javier Soto, CEO of The Miami Foundation, introduced us to Ghislain Gourage who now serves as our Board Chairman. The founding Board of Directors consists of 20 members and includes Ayisyen (Haitians) based in Ayiti and the U.S., and friends of Ayiti. These are individuals who have shown exceptional commitment to Ayiti and are ready to roll up their sleeves in order to execute tasks.