Posts Tagged ‘Wyclef Jean’

Bearing Witness to Haiti

The following is an email sent by Timberland President and CEO Jeff Swartz to Timberland employees worldwide, chronicling his recent trip to Haiti.  We’re sharing it here on Earthkeepers because we believe it stands up to its name — “bearing witness” — as a powerful account of destruction and survival in Haiti … and provides perspective for the important work that lies ahead as the nation rebuilds.

Team Timberland,

So, what’s so hard about this note, which I have intended to write for a week?  Last week, I visited Haiti, in the company of Bill Shore , the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, and a Timberland Board member, and chair of the Board’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, and in the company of Wyclef Jean , a 12 time Grammy award winner, a Haitian musician and activist, Timberland’s partner in an effort to plant trees and reforest Haiti, as part of our global Earthkeeper efforts.  The visit was in response to the earthquake that struck Haiti 3 weeks ago; our visit was an attempt to focus Timberland’s Earthkeeper resources temporarily on disaster relief.  The trip was emotional and powerful; I left Saturday night and was back in the office Tuesday.

So, what’s so hard about a brief note that describes the heroism of the many doctors we saw, the heartbreak of the destruction we saw, the inspiration I felt with Bill and Wyclef, and the indignation I felt at the world’s well intended but inept efforts to cope with this disaster?

Maybe it is the scale of the disaster, in the context of a country already ravaged by history.   Maybe it is the raw, emotional experience of being amidst death and destruction, and in the presence of the dying.  Maybe it is the feeling  of futility, the ultimate experience of the City Year “Starfish” story , that  waited for me at each stop we made in Haiti—yes, we made a difference here,  but wow, we did not even scratch the surface of the pain and agony here…

For all these reasons and more, I have not done my job by you; I have not been able to bear witness to you from Haiti. So, below, I have tried to right that wrong.  Call this note, “bearing witness”–but “bear with me” also works–it is a very long note. Long for the reasons I cite above, and long because it is hard even now for me to say simply why a bootmaker flew to Hell and how the experience of that Hell affirmed my belief in the mission of commerce and justice. So, here goes.

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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.

Please note this is excerpted from a piece which appears on Fast Company today.  Please click here to read the entire entry, and our thanks to the Fast Company team for sharing.

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.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

Warrior Wyclef

Our thanks to the Earthkeepers who came out to help us celebrate our partnership with Wyclef Jean in New York last week — we’re still recovering.  Those of you who missed it, never fear – we captured a few key moments on film:

For more information on the Timberland / Wyclef collaboration (and to register to be notified when the Yele Haiti boots hit stores), visit Earthkeeper.com .