10 Feburary 2010
Hand In Hand For Haiti: Ed Brennan And Olivier Bottrie Speak Out
Source: ©The Moodie Report
The Moodie Report Founder & Publisher Martin Moodie spoke with his fellow steering committee members, DFS Chairman and CEO Ed Brennan and Olivier Bottrie, President of The Estée Lauder Companies Travel Retail Worldwide, to assess the task ahead and to reflect on the marvellous industry response to date.
Olivier, what inspired you to start Hand in Hand for Haiti? How did it come about?
Olivier Bottrie: As you know Martin, my wife Alexandra is from Haiti. After the earthquake on January 12th I went to the philanthropic committee of the Estée Lauder Companies and our CEO Fabrizio Freda to ask for their financial support, which they lent to me immediately and unconditionally through a very large grant. The Estée Lauder Companies have a long history of charitable giving and proved once more that empathy and social consciousness are deeply embedded in the fabric of the group.
You and Ed [Brennan] then both called me to ask after the welfare of Alexandra's family and friends. I was delighted when you both reacted positively to my query as to whether the travel retail industry could and would help. Within hours the concept of Hand in Hand for Haiti was born.
Actually, the idea to help Haiti had been in my mind since I first visited the country in November 2004 with my wife, who moved to the United States in 1999. I have hardly ever met such a kind and welcoming people. I was shocked to see the misery and the hardship, a sharp contrast with the ebullience and charm of the people I met there.
I have always believed that one of the best ways to help a country is to help its youth – and education is paramount. Children are the future. The other way to help is to provide jobs, of course, and allow families to develop and grow. That too must be attended to.
Strangely, I first formulated the more concrete thought about building a school in Haiti last June when I attended the Advanced Management Program at the Wharton School. The assignment was to write a so-called 'Fortune' article, written 20 years from now and that would summarize my path. In the article, I wrote that a Foundation I had helped create opened its first school in Haiti in 2013.
The tragedy that took place on January 12th woke me from my lethargy and the pursuit of mostly personal goals. As the reality of the catastrophe set in via the news coverage, and as my wife was trying to locate her parents and friends, I knew that once the camera crews left there was a risk that Haiti would again fall into oblivion.
The emergency relief needs were urgent and immediate, yet the reconstruction needs were equally vital – not just in the months ahead but for many years to come. I realized then that we had to mobilize at once. So I reached out to the industry I know best – travel retail. And here we are. Ed, when the call came through to you at DFS, what made you respond in the way you did? And what was the reaction internally within your company?
Ed Brennan: I have always been drawn to helping children, especially the less fortunate. As I watched the coverage of the Haiti earthquake, I was moved to tears many times seeing the look of despair and desperation on the children's small faces as they dealt with unimaginable tragedy and loss.
When the call came from you Martin and Olivier and you asked if I thought our industry would help, the immediate answer was 'Of course' and my next thought was a personal offer to help coordinate the effort.
One of the things I have cherished during my time leading DFS is that deep in our DNA is the willingness and commitment to give back to our communities. Our teams around the world frequently support charities in the communities where we operate in addition to company-wide, global non-profits like The Smile Train.
I expected the DFS team would rally around this cause and they have already started to volunteer and contribute with great passion and personal generosity.
Olivier, tell us about the project itself in terms of its broad aims and principles.
B: The vision is to build – or rebuild – education facilities in Haiti, with best-in-class academic standards, providing bi-lingual education, French and English. This will be supported and funded in the long term through Hand in Hand for Haiti, a not-for profit private foundation.
We will run the Foundation with strict governance principles, processes and control mechanisms and strong financial discipline. Our objective is to accompany local and international policies to develop rural areas in Haiti while de-populating the capital Port-au-Prince.
What is the timetable? OB: Our industry moves fast, and so will we. We have set for ourselves the ambitious objective to open a primary school by September. This might sound overly optimistic and unrealistic. I believe it is possible. We are surrounding ourselves with experts and technicians, local or from abroad, and there are solutions to rapidly build anti-seismic and hurricane-proof facilities.
When I was an officer in the French Marine Airborne Corps, we had a motto, inherited from the British SAS, who created and trained French airborne units in Libya in 1943: 'Who dares wins'!
What's been the industry reaction to date?
EB: Ours is an industry characterized by a spirit of competition and, in turn, a spirit of cooperation. Each of us who run a travel retail company knows of the key role our brand partners and other vendors play in our success.
One characteristic of travel retail is how we work so well together to solve industry problems. Now we're taking that same spirit of cooperation and applying it to the horrific situation in Haiti. Even in these early stages, the calls I have made have given me great personal satisfaction that our industry will come together as never before to help with this dire situation.
Within one week of the appeal being launched we had already raised US$800,000 and the total is growing daily. We're confident of reaching or surpassing our original target of US$1.5 million.
As with any humanitarian appeal in a developing country, there will be concerns about where the money will go and how it will be spent. What assurances can you give the industry on this?
EB: We are currently in the process of filing for our 501(C) (3) which will designate Hand in Hand for Haiti as a U.S. tax-exempt, non-profit organization. Hand in Hand for Haiti is being developed with strict principles of governance, will have total transparency, strong financial controls and will be overseen by a board of directors. 100% of the funds raised will support our school project.
What percentage of the funds will go to overhead, what percentage to the school?
EB: We are relying on the pro bono support of DFS, Estée Lauder Companies and The Moodie Report for much of the legal work, strategic positioning, creative development, initial solicitation and staffing. As more business partners are added we expect they will help us, too. Our underlying objective will always be to leverage our corporate infrastructures to ensure the kids get as close to 100% of the funds as possible.
Given the sheer scale of the catastrophe and the collapse of government services and the country's infrastructure, this project appears to be hugely complex. How will you manage in such a legislative void?
OB: We first must realize that Haiti cannot be summarized in the manner that we have been accustomed to seeing in the news over the past 20 years or so, which focused mostly on Port-au-Prince and its slums. Haiti has been ostracized for many years but somehow it still functions.
Most people are extremely poor, yet they go on with their lives and continue to hope. There is a great culture, the music and the arts are vibrant and there is a very strong sense of community. The provinces, where the school will be built, are safe and local governments function.
People are understandably sceptical about Haiti's institutions but a lot of people, local and foreign, are doing great work today. So, it will be critical to identify the right partners to guide us through the complexity as you rightly call it and stay undeterred and focused.
Will you build just one school? Could you build more if there is enough money? And tell us in more detail about your plans for the school in terms of facilities, teachers, curriculum etc?
OB: The project is initially to build a primary school complex, with an Infirmary, a kitchen and a cafeteria as well as a playground and possibly some facilities to practice sport.
Feeding the children, at least twice a day, will be critical to their academic success. We will hold ourselves to the highest standards, academically and pedagogically and in all likelihood an international school will 'adopt' the new school, to provide training to the teachers, program guidance and on-goin g field supervision. We are also considering providing lodging to the teachers to attract and retain them at the school.
All this will dent our initial endowment. Yet, this is a long-term project, and we will continue to support it financially and will therefore continue to raise money and awareness for the Foundation.
As we continue, money permitting, we will certainly look at a second phase, and add four classes. In time, we could imagine going all the way to the end of high-school and the 'baccalaureate'.
Alternatively, we might simply replicate the primary school concept elsewhere. We will take local needs into account to decide.
Ed, this strikes me as a great test of our industry's Corporate Social Responsibility credentials and its sense of compassion and readiness to help in times of crisis. Do you think collectively travel retail can truly make a difference?
EB: We can and we will make a difference! Ours is an industry that is used to adjusting to new situations, working quickly, and setting a strategy that works. In a practical sense, we will apply good business strategy to the problem at hand. In a personal sense, we will tap into the compassion and concern which are hallmarks of the travel retail business.
You're both heading to Haiti in early March, together with me. What's the aim of the visit? And what are your feelings about it?
EB: The aim of the visit is to have a personal experience of the situation on the ground in Haiti and to evaluate our project in relationship to local needs and resources. That's the business part of the journey. I expect that the personal part of the journey will take me into new emotional territory as I learn of the tremendous difficulties faced by Haitians and, especially the children.
OB: We will have a busy schedule, visiting the South-West part of Haiti, the areas of Les Cayes and Les Abricots and an important provincial city, Jeremie, to identify the best location for our initial project.
We will meet with elected officials, both at local and national levels; several personalities of the civil society as well as with the Minister of Education; and quite possibly the Prime Minister as well the US and French Ambassadors in the country.
I know it will be a difficult trip emotionally, and certainly challenging. We will meet unexpected hurdles. But I know we will prevail. After talking to many Haitians, I know we are doing the right thing for the country and my state of mind is that we will succeed whatever the circumstances.
If you each had a message to the travel retail industry what would it be?
OB: I would first want to thank all those who believe in the project, who have already confirmed their financial support and have confidence in our ability to deliver. We will not disappoint them.
Second, I see this as a great opportunity for the travel retail industry to show its solidarity for a country in which no-one in the business has any business stake. This is pure generosity, compassion and humanity.
Third, I would like to thank the industry on behalf of the children whose lives we will change with the gift of education. We will empower them to build a bright future for their country.
EB: My message to the travel retail industry is this: rarely have we had an opportunity to make such a striking difference in the world. Please join us as we work together to improve the lives of Haiti's children and give them the promising future they so richly deserve.