Last Friday, just a few weeks after getting permission to start the Resources to Resources Club at Knox, the non-profit organization hosted the Haitian roots band Kreyòl Roots for a workshop and concert. The organization runs a microsavings program in Canaan, Haiti and also sends funds to a farmers’ collective in Camp Perrin, Haiti.
Assistant Professor of Political Science Daniel Beers started to develop the organization a couple years ago with students who have now graduated. He first got involved with foreign aid in Haiti after traveling there through an aid organization after the 2010 earthquake. The organization incorporated as nonprofit 501(c)(3) status just over a year ago.
The club grew out of a desire to continue the project at Knox after Beers’ departure next year. Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology William Hope will take over Beers’ role in the club and connected the organization to Kreyòl Roots for this event.
“[We’re] making sure that the idea that was born in Knox with Daniel Beers and other Knox alum stays here and keeps on going rather than just ending with Daniel leaving,” the club’s director of finance and sophomore Soumitra Thorat said.
The concert brought in around 215 people in total, from Knox as well as the Galesburg community. They raised $3,461, all of which will go to the programs in Haiti.
The event was not just a fundraiser but was also, as Beers had hoped, a celebration of Haitian culture and a learning experience. The club’s director of communications and junior Nick Ryan saw it as a chance to change people’s view of Haiti.
“In foreign aid, perception means so much,” Ryan said.
The concert featured sponsors from the city as well as Knox clubs and academic departments. External sponsors included baked and The Beanhive, both of which offered raffle prizes.
“We don’t want to be in the Knox bubble,” Thorat said.
For Beers and the members of the club, the organization represents a more modern approach to foreign aid.
“Basically, the idea was to create an organization that would be more flexible and more responsive to the needs of Haitians, and more able to work collaboratively with local Haitian organizations in the process of recovery after natural disasters, or just to work on investment or community development projects,” Beers said.
According to Beers, microfinance is a growing trend in foreign aid, but most of the programs are for micro loans. Beers wanted to start a program that did not put people into debt. The microsavings program offers matching funds up to $12 a month for deposits into a savings account. It also provides mobile banking services and financial education to participants.
“When we talked to people about the program, two people actually said that they thought the training was more valuable than the matching funds, which is pretty awesome,” Beers said.
The Camp Perrin program originated after Hurricane Matthew. The storm destroyed most of the town’s crops on which it relies. Proceeds from the concert will go to the collective as they continue to recover.
For the organization and the club, working with local groups is central to building sustainable models for foreign aid, unlike current models run by large organizations like the Red Cross or United Nations.
“In the end, of course we want to change these communities and help the people we’ve met down in Haiti, but long term and large scale impact, it’s ‘How do we change the narrative? How do we change the mission? How do we change the perception, the idea of what foreign aid is?’” Ryan said.