Port-au-Prince: The Risk Management Process

By Francisco Mateo

Part of the risk management duties at a multinational firm requires an in-depth analysis of the risk scenario that the business faces.  That requires first hand assessment and crafting custom made solutions to protect our people, assets, reputation and brands. Today I spent the day touring Port-au-Prince’s hardest hit areas, embedded with our business managers. My mission was two-pronged: first protect our executives in a challenging risk environment and second, getting a correct appraisal of the risks they’ll continue to face as they try to both get food donations to the most needy in Haiti and also protect our competitive advantage from the onslaught of aggressive competitors; who do not play from the same humanitarian playbook we believe in at this point in time.

We were dismayed by the magnitude and wide-spread devastation, but amazed to see the resilience of the Haitian people; who have already decided to stand up from the rubble and carry-on with their lives. Part of the executive protection protocol I had put in place called from riding in a well-guarded armored vehicle out of an overabundance of caution, but we still witnessed how Haiti’s fame open markets are steadily coming back; moreover, there is a reflective sense of calm in people’s faces.  Long lines snake around money transfer agencies (MoneyGram and CAM) all over Port-au-Prince as people get any money they can to survive day by day from the products sold at informal markets. One thing I was surprised to see was the lack of humanitarian aid presence at ground zero. 

I don’t want to be critical of the work many humanitarian aid organizations have performed in Haiti, but going into Port-au-Prince today, the one perception I had was the sickness I felt at the thought that many of the apparent aid workers I saw going into Haiti two weeks ago at the Dominican Border were only in for some voyeuristic sense of self-interest in disaster tourism.  I can’t say I left city having confirmed them as misconceptions.

Getting back to my risk scenarios prior to setting out for Port-au-Prince I had my executive sales team vaccinated against diseases associated with wide-spread disasters and previously observed in Haiti. In retrospect it was an excellent preventative move since we had to leave the car on several occasions to interact with street vendors and the public against a backdrop of destruction and the smell of death still bellowing in the air.  I remain seriously concern about the specter of infection diseases I believe looms large over the heads of refugees living in tents in crowded open areas.

At the end of the day, we all have to play a part in helping Haiti get back on its feet. One important lesson I learned today is that we can be easily deceived by rumors of looting and risky business environment, but only a first hand look at the situation on the ground would give you the edge to properly advice your business on how to operate securely in a high risk situation. I will continue submitting my dispatches as the recovery efforts get under way.