Imagining a New Way Forward
Last week , Billy Shore provided a poignant account of his trip to Haiti with Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz and Earthkeeper Wyclef Jean , among others. Below, Jeff Swartz shares his own thoughts on the devastation in Haiti, how it redefined Timberland’s partnership with our partner Yéle Haiti … and how innovation is built from crisis.
After the earthquake
We reached out, and Wyclef moved from celebrity entertainer to Haitian leader—from rapping out lyrics, to rapping out directions. He told us from the ground, aid is pouring in, and stalling at the airport. Not a question of good instincts, good intentions, pure hearts—but the issue is not about intention, it’s about execution. Get the food, get the water, get the medical supplies to the people—period. And Wyclef was hard but clear: we are a for-profit company, with superb logistic competences, and with a factory for over 20 years in Santiago, in the Dominican Republic— just 100 miles from Port au Prince. He told us to urgently mobilize the trucks, open the warehouse, and get material flowing. Yéle will get the food packed—Timberland has to get it delivered. And then Yéle will do its magic—mobilizing young Haitians, in neighborhoods like Bel Air and Cité Soleil, to distribute food to the hungry, hope to the powerful souls living in the open after the quake. Do what you do well—do what a great bootmaker does—work your logistics network, and partner with the right entrepreneurial partner, and together—we can deliver good.
And so we did—we mobilized our logistics team in the DR, and went to work. And while we are not Federal Express or UPS—we grunted and we got shipments moving over land.
And then Wyclef said—get on the plane and come here, and see the model for building a new Haiti. A model that is one part the private sector, one part the authentic and effective NGO, and nine parts the spirit of free Haiti. See Timberland plus Yéle plus the young of Haiti work in a specific, focused way to be part of creating a new Haiti.
So I went. They say journeys are more about who you travel with, and less about the itinerary. On this voyage, I had the company and counsel of heroes —like Bill Shore (the founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, Timberland board member and teacher of mine), and a team from Partners in Health who needed a ride to this island in desperate need of medical miracles. We made our way to Port au Prince. And in the searing humidity, we served 8,000 hot meals that Yéle had found a way to cook. We served from the back of a truck, in Cité Soleil. We sweated, and cried, and we saw the outlines of a way forward. One part private sector competence and passion, one part on-the-ground entrepreneurial NGO brilliance, and 9 parts Haitian strength and dignity and grace and energy. And when we wheeled out of Cité Soleil, while my heart will never be the same, neither will my head.
Spending two days in post-earthquake Haiti does not make me akin to its survivors — but it was time enough for me to develop a new understanding of crisis and devastation and reaffirmed for me, a third-generation entrepreneur, that out of crisis flows innovation. Before the earthquake, I was the CEO of a for-profit company with strength to share and a passion for commerce and justice. Planting trees in Haiti felt like, looked like, the right thing to do. It still is. Only now, post-quake, I’m a CEO with strength and passion who has witnessed both frustration and amazingly, hope in both a ravaged land and its survivors. Tomorrow we’ll plant trees … today we’re growing a logistical network from Santiago to Cité Soleil. Tomorrow we’ll revisit our marketing plans — today we’re leveraging our strategy skills to figure out how to get more food into the hands of the hungry. Trees, yes, community building, yes — a solid vision for the future is as critical to Haiti’s survival as anything right now. But before the re-growth, a nation needs to heal, and before it can heal, it needs help.
President & CEO, Timberland