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At annual summit, new programs and request to prioritize tech for Haiti

BY ONZ CHÉRY AND J.O. HASELHOEF

Screenshot of panelists during the 2021
Screenshot of panelists during the 2021 Haiti Tech Summit and the event’s founder Christine Ntim.

Haiti’s electricity agency first installed prepaid meters in 2021 — 19 years after they were available. The delay shows how much Haiti’s leaders lag behind in bringing technology to the country, said Christine Coupet Jacques, chief executive officer of DAGMAR, a marketing agency based in Port-au-Prince. 

From transportation to digital payment systems, new technologies could improve Haitians’ day-to-day quality of life, but left undone, the country will never catch up digitally, Coupet Jacques and other speakers said during the fifth edition of Haiti Tech Summit (HTS) Dec. 10.

“They won’t be able to connect with the rest of the world if the government doesn’t step up,” Jacques said during a panel. “Any government that comes next will have no choice but to have technology at the top of their agenda.”

HTS, held virtually for the second straight year drew at least 15,000 viewers, around the theme, “What’s Next: Galvanizing the Diaspora for a New Haiti.” Speakers included Mike Romoff, vice president of Global Channel Sales at Google, and Akwasi Ababbio, Ghana’s director of diaspora affairs.

Christine Ntim, the summit’s founder, announced three major initiatives HTS will spearhead: a National Career Service Program, the Diaspora Mobilization for Haiti and a Tourism Career Accelerator. 

“We’re bringing tech into tourism,” Ntim said. “As a platform that enables, inspires and amplifies, we put in the work. We’re launching and conducting initiatives that really support the community.”

HTS has partnered with Inter-American Development Bank Lab on a three-year agreement to launch the Tourism Career Accelerator. 

Though they did not detail how or if they plan to spur Haiti’s government to prioritize technology, several of the speakers said technology is vital to any initiative.

“When tech isn’t involved, it doesn’t end well for Blacks,” said Janeen Uzzell, chief executive officer of the National Society of Black Engineers. “That’s why I use my keyboard for good, equity and tech.”

Sandra Florvella, founder of Haitian Businesses, a network for Haitian-owned businesses worldwide, also said more technology must be made available in Haiti to help entrepreneurs run businesses with fewer hassles and expenses.

“Make the technology available for entrepreneurs to do what they need to do to advance,” Florvella said. “Perhaps showing the incentive of how much money is being lost when we don’t have those things available, maybe if we keep throwing that in their faces they will then realize ‘Okay, we need to make sure that they have them available.’”

To Patrick Attie, director general of Ecole Superieure d’Infotronique d’Haiti, Haiti needs access to artificial intelligence, virtual reality and other innovative technologies that are cheap and simple for students.

“Our obsession is leveraging tech to leapfrog,” Attie said “Not in increments but in big jumps.”

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