Top aid agencies in Haiti: A primer

A helicopter hovering close to Haiti's Presidential Palace releases first aid kits for the residents of Port-au-Prince, victims of a potent and devastating earthquake. Photo by: Marco Dormino/United Nations

Thousands were believed dead after a potent earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12. Several aid workers were among the victims, including the United Nation’s mission head to Haiti, Hedi Annabi. Offices of several aid agencies collapsed.

Aid began to pour in almost immediately, but the damage remains colossal.

As the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti is no stranger to the development community. With 76 percent of Haitians living on less than US$2 per day and a penchant for political upheaval, Haiti attracts international aid agencies across the development spectrum.

Natural disasters have only worsened Haiti’s plight. In 2008, severe storms destroyed more than 70 percent of Haiti’s agriculture and most of the country’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure, leaving 3.3 million people in need of food support.

To help the country recover from the devastation, the Inter-American Development Bank hosted a donor conference in April 2009. The event yielded $324 million in aid pledges, including $57 million from the United States.

The U.S. and Canada remain Haiti’s largest bilateral donors. Much of their assistance is channeled through non-governmental and aid groups. Larger organizations that are active in Haiti usually have a multifaceted aid approach for their development strategy, encompassing health, food security, HIV/AIDS, education, microenterprise and job creation.

While most international agencies rely heavily on local staff, entry-level professional expatriates can take advantage of interesting volunteering opportunities. Often, experienced professionals with French or Creole language skills can seek program management assignments.

Below is a selection of some of the most prominent aid organizations in Haiti, based on their size, funding, visibility and track record.


CHF is one of the largest development employers in Haiti, with over $100 million in funding. Its Haiti office currently employs 150 to 160 locals and around 10 expatriates. CHF reported it has created 64,000 short-term jobs, trained 986 youth in vocational training centers, and assisted 465 microenterprises in 2008. Currently, CHF is undertaking 148 small-scale programs in Haiti, from road and bridge building to vocational training.

Pan American Development Foundation

With a staff of over 100-almost totally Haitian nationals-working throughout the country, PADF prioritizes areas such as agricultural development and natural resources management; rural and urban community-driven development and civil society strengthening; anti-human trafficking and human rights protection; cross-border cooperation among Haitian and Dominican NGOs and municipalities; natural disaster reconstruction and community preparedness; and employment generation.

Partners in Health

Founded by development icon Paul Farmer, Zanmi Lasante-the Creole name of Partners in Health-ranks as one of the largest non-governmental health care providers in Haiti. The small community clinic that first started treating patients in 1985 has grown into the ZL Sociomedical Complex, featuring a 104-bed, full-service hospital with operating rooms, an infectious disease center, an outpatient clinic, a women’s health clinic, a ophthalmology clinic, a laboratory, a pharmaceutical warehouse, a Red Cross blood bank, radiographic services, and a dozen schools. ZL has also expanded its operations to eight other sites across Haiti.


With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, DAI operates the Economic Development for a Sustainable Environment project, or DEED, using a market-based approach to improve management of lands and expand job opportunities in the production of suitable high-value crops. Additionally, microfinance activities are focused on improving access to financial opportunities for businesses, technical support for start-ups, new product development, and other forms of capacity building to retail microfinance institutions.


Care has adopted an integrated development approach in Haiti, with projects in HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, maternal and child health, education, food security, and water and sanitation. Care works closely with local NGOs, private companies and the Haitian government to build local capacity and achieve sustainable development. As of February 2009, Care had 208 staff members in Haiti-206 are Haitians and two are expats.


Funded by USAID, ACDI/VOCA operates a five-year program aimed at reducing vulnerability to food insecurity in the southeast department of Haiti, one of the most food-insecure regions. ACDI/VOCA works with two key partners, Management Sciences for Health and Bureau de Nutrition et Développement, a Haitian organization that has worked for more than 20 years to improve food security throughout Haiti. ACDI/VOCA and its partners promote sustainable livelihood strategies-with a focus on health and nutrition-and the development of an early warning system. The project anticipates reaching 72,750 individual beneficiaries.

Catholic Relief Services

With more than 50 years of experience in Haiti, Catholic Relief Services is now one of the largest U.S. humanitarian organizations working in the country. Its annual budget of $20 million makes CRS’s Haiti program the organization’s largest country operation in Latin America and the Caribbean. Serving some 200,000 Haitians, CRS’s projects provide assistance focusing on health and nutrition, education, water and sanitation, HIV and AIDS, agriculture, peace building and migration.


Otherwise known as Haiti’s Alternative Bank for the Organized Poor, Fonkoze is reported to be the largest microfinance institution in Haiti. It serves more than 175,000 savers and 55,000 women borrowers, most of whom live and work in the countryside. With its network of 37 branches covering every region of Haiti, Fonkoze is the only MFI that is national in scope.

Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders has worked in Haiti since 1991. It employs a field staff of 794 professionals. In addition to hurricane relief efforts, ongoing projects include trauma surgery in La Trinité Hospital and emergency obstetric care at Jude Anne Hospital, both in Port-au-Prince, as well as emergency care in Martissant and mobile clinics.

Développement international Desjardins

With funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, DID supports Haitian savings and credit cooperatives by increasing access to financial services for individuals and entrepreneurs. They work to develop institutional management and governance skills of financial cooperatives, and support the creation of a federation to offer financial cooperatives the basic services needed for sustainability.

World Food Program

WFP plays a key role in disaster mitigation programs, including food-for-work schemes that involve terracing hillsides to prevent future mudslides, reconstructing roads, and rehabilitating agricultural land by the local populace. It continues to implement the largest school feeding program in Haiti, providing a daily meal to more than 400,000 pupils. For the past two years, WFP is supporting the governmental National Program for the Fight Against Parasites by providing de-worming tablets twice a year to more than 400,000 schoolchildren.

Fondation Connaissance et Liberté/Open Society Institute

George Soros’s foundation in Haiti provides programs to improve conditions for young people and rural communities. Through education programs, FOKAL has provided youth from historically marginalized communities with access to information and new technologies. The foundation has organized art exhibits, conferences, debates, and economic education programs to engage and inspire young people. FOKAL has also developed a national network of women’s organizations through providing computers and Internet connectivity as well as promoting joint advocacy activities.

International Fund for Agricultural Development

The International Fund for Agricultural Development is a major technical and financial partner in rural Haiti. Since 1978, the United Nations agency has approved $153.1 million worth of projects that benefitted 155,065 households. Through a community-based approach, IFAD invests in building the capacities of communities, promoting production initiatives, and providing poor rural people with access to financial services.


In a major campaign to reduce maternal mortality, UNICEF and its partners provided medical equipment and training to reopen closed health facilities. An estimated 75,000 pregnant women are expected to benefit from the initiative. UNICEF helped communities build 55 new schools, which will educate an additional 20,000 children.

World Vision

Currently, 51,838 Haitian children are registered in World Vision’s sponsorship program. The organization also operates 19 various development programs such as the Sak Plen Resiliency Enhancement Program to reduce food insecurity in 100,000 vulnerable households by instructing farmers to develop sustainable agricultural practices. The Improved Primary Education Project in northwest Haiti, meanwhile, provides resources to 25 primary schools in the area.


Concern has been working in Haiti since 1994. It focuses on improving health, preventing violence, and fighting HIV. Concern recently provided health training to 1,271 teachers. Its maternal and infant health program includes an outpatient treatment service for severely malnourished children. Concern’s HIV/AIDS program aims to raise awareness so as to overcome discrimination against HIV-positive people. Concern has a 2009 budget of $6 million and is operating with 107 staff members, of which six are non-Haitian nationals.

Yéle Haiti

Founded by musician Wyclef Jean, Yele Haiti helps make a difference in the areas of education, health, environment and community development. Its mission is to create small-scale, manageable and replicable projects to contribute to Haiti’s long-term progress. The power and reach of music, sports and the media are used to increase impact of projects.

About the author

  • Jody Nesbitt

    Jody is a Devex international correspondent in Washington, D.C. Previously, he worked as a monitor in South Africa's provincial parliament, as well as a researcher for the Center for Economic and Policy Research and for Glass Lewis & Co. He has studied at Rutgers University, the University of Natal and the University of the West Indies, earning a bachelor's in political science and a master's in international relations.