Two MIT professors traveled to Haiti this summer to conduct an intensive leadership workshop with the country’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, and more than 50 Haitian government ministers and cabinet members.
MIT Sloan professor Deborah Ancona tailored her Transforming Your Leadership Strategy course from MIT Sloan Executive Education specifically to the needs of Haiti’s top government leaders. The workshop took place June 26-28 in Pétion-Ville, near Port-au-Prince.
“There was the goal of teaching a new language of leadership, the 4-CAP model, to the ministers,” Ancona said. “Another goal was to have people engage in exercises and become more comfortable working with each other. Participants also identified their own leadership signatures, learning their unique ways of leading. On the final day people shared their visions of an emerging Haiti and invented cross-ministry plans to make the visions a reality.”
Ancona, the faculty director of the MIT Leadership Center, is known for her concept of "x-teams," adaptable teams that drive innovation and creativity. She has consulted on leadership for major corporations, including Bose and Merrill Lynch.
The workshop grew out of relationships made through the MIT-Haiti Initiative, a joint effort funded by the National Science Foundation to promote technology-enhanced active learning in STEM education. The initiative uses educational technology and open education resources in Kreyòl, one of Haiti’s two official languages. MIT linguistics professor Michel DeGraff, a native of Haiti and the principal investigator of the MIT-Haiti Initiative, worked with Ancona to organize the leadership workshop. The pair collaborated with a task force from Haiti’s Prime Minister’s Office and were supported by Rebecca Obounou, program manager at MIT Sloan Executive Education. The initiative’s co-principal investigator is M.S. Vijay Kumar, director of the MIT Office of Educational Innovation and Technology.
The participants “all opened themselves up to state-of-the-art methods and tools from MIT Sloan in order to implement change toward better opportunity for all in Haiti, especially the most vulnerable there,” DeGraff said. “This is the first time ever that an entire government gathered for such training in Haiti, and this is first time that such high-level training used Kreyòl as the primary language of spoken and written interaction, with all the documents — from slides to handouts — produced in Kreyòl instead of French.”
French is spoken by as few as five percent of Haitians, but is the traditional language of education and administration. Kreyòl is spoken by nearly the entire population.
The workshop and the Haitian government’s efforts to develop new leadership and educational strategies that break new ground in terms of inclusion and innovation come at a critical moment for the country, which is still reeling from the 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people, though there is considerable debate on the correct death toll. Today, the country is beset by a cholera epidemic and calls for new elections while it awaits fulfillment on pledges of international aid.
Amidst this, the country’s leaders — Lamothe was appointed by President Michel Martelly — are insistent on a long-term vision for Haiti, Ancona said. The country is ahead of schedule on meeting its United Nations Millennium Development Goals, including boosting primary education enrollment and reducing child malnutrition. Economic development, too, is a priority, with “enormous work” underway to build up the tourist industry, improve the quality of education, and reduce the unemployment rate, Ancona said. A special unit was created in the Ministry of Education to institutionalize the collaboration between MIT and the Haitian government and to develop free online resources in Kreyòl.
“Part of what the prime minister said to workshop participants was ‘Don’t come in here as government officials. Come in here as students of management and innovation,’” Ancona said. “He would really like to bring managerial ideas into government.”
“I think people had a positive experience,” she said. “This is about a government that is on the move and we hope we added to the momentum.”