Morad Fareed and Robert “Boby” Duval bonded over their shared love for sports. But as they soon found out, they also shared a vision for Haiti as a home to well-established forums for athletics, culture and the arts.
Duval is Haitian sports icon, human rights activist and youth leader. Fareed, co-founder and managing partner of healthy-living real estate company Delos Living, once played for the Palestinian national soccer team.
The two met in Haiti by chance. At last week’s Clinton Global Initiative gathering in New York, Delos committed to helping build a 12,000-person football stadium – the first in Haiti – and to secure the $5 million needed to construct and open the stadium.
Fareed and Duval spoke with Devex following the announcement about the moment that sparked their collaboration and the challenges of scaling up operations.
How were you two able to initially connect and meet?
Morad Fareed: CGI is the short answer. Boby has been doing work in Haiti obviously for decades now. And he has been really a pillar of his community as somebody who has worked with integrity and determination to train and develop youth. I was in Port-au-Prince as a member of the CGI Haiti Network and I had committed 200 transitional homes. The head of the network said, “I know you played soccer in your past life, Morad, here is this guy who works in Cité Soleil who you should meet.” And we sat down and it was as simple as sitting down for a beer and that beer lasted six hours because we realized we had so much in common.
On the first night we met… he was telling me this horrific story of how he is down to 90 pounds and in a death prison. [Then-U.S. President] Jimmy Carter orders the emergency relief of 106 prisoners and he says, “Jimmy Carter saved my life.” My phone vibrates and it is an email from Jimmy Carter’s office. I am due to go to Plains, Georgia, to meet President Carter and [his wife] Rosalynn the next weekend… I look at him and say, “That’s it. That’s the triangle. You’re coming, and we’re going.”
Boby Duval: He took me to see Jimmy Carter, who happened to save my life when I was in prison under the Duvalier dictatorship. And I told him the story and we just connected, you know? And he came immediately the next day to visit the program that I run in Haiti, which is a youth program called Fondation L’Athlétique d’Haïti. And we visited the main center where we have practices every day and stuff, and he understood immediately, himself, as a former player of an international team of Palestine, he understood what I was up against.
MF: It didn’t matter what sport it was, to be honest with you. What mattered was Boby’s vision right away. A big idea that was very simple to understand, and I could see a straight line to it sustaining itself through creating its own revenue. It was a business. It was not a philanthropic project, it was not a charity. It is, “Listen, we can create an industry in Haiti. This is an industry. I have a vision for it.” That’s what I loved most about it. Delos is very interested in supporting different types of things that are sustainable, in terms of being innovative.
What sort of time line do you have for securing the $5 million you just committed for the Haiti soccer stadium?
MF: I believe within six to nine months we will have $5 million pledged and received. Five million in the scheme of things is not a lot, considering the 500 jobs it will create and considering the 10,000 people minimum it will indirectly affect, when you consider the 12,000 who will be able to watch a sport they love every single match, and when you consider all the revenue that we will be able to generate through the team purchases, through merchandising and through stadium naming rights. I have reviewed Boby’s business plan. It would make a Fortune 500 CEO proud to know how much planning he has done.
What are the logistical challenges of launching such a big operation in Haiti?
BD: We already have the paperwork done. I have worked in Haiti, in sports and the NGO sector for 17 years now. I think the bigger challenge will be to [get] the 501©(3) status here [in the United States] and funding, which we are now doing.
What about penetrating the system in Haiti, working out the logistics to get a project like this off the ground?
BD: Well, it has its challenges. But one good thing I think I have done over the years and have acquired is the trust of the people. You couldn’t do it, in the zone where I am, where it is so difficult and so dangerous, without that. I wouldn’t be alive if I was lying to people. So we feed 2,000 kids, we support at least another 10,000 people because you have the parents, the mothers and brothers who depend on our program, and we always have, whenever we have extra… of whatever, we give it to the community. So the people have grown accustomed to us being around and being their support.
That is the kind of support that the powers that be [the government], they are interested in providing, but they cannot do some of the things we are doing. They have other priorities in the country. So the people learn to trust and to count on us more.
What potential for other types of growth do you see right now in Haiti?
BD: Sports are what I know, though I have been involved with other things, like picking up garbage and composting. We can go any way, but I think concentrating on what we know best, concentrating on what the natural development of the sports activity is, that is what we are going to focus on.
MF: I would add to that. That is the first pillar. What I see next is culture and arts. I see education in the sense of, I see this facility, 17 acres, I see a library, I see it being inaugurated with a concert of the world’s best musicians.
BD: Well, that is your imagination.
MF: I am going to fly with this. I see a museum celebrating Haitians’ contributions to humanity. And I see a hotel. Everyone who goes to the stadium can visit the museum, the library. In my dream, this is the hub for what Haiti could become and right there, it could be a microcosm of what the whole country could be. So it starts with the stadium: Take it slow, but make it happen.