Month at a glance
  • Team visits one of the leading precast manufacturers, ATMI, and design-build experts, ARCO/Murray, in suburban Chicago. (Photo Archive)
  • Development Advisory Team (DAT) members Deandra Cadet and Erik Jensen visit Haiti for high-level meetings in Port-au-Prince with the “housing inner circle” including the new Unité de Construction de Logements et de Bâtiments Publics (Unit of Construction of Housing and Public Buildings) and USAID. 

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March 2014 Feature Story

Innovation as Conversation

Imagine this: you are sitting at your desk at work and a team of people you’ve never seen before enters your office. None of them speak English, but they are full of enthusiasm as they start to introduce themselves through a translator. After pleasantries are exchanged, they proceed to inform you that they have solved a problem that has been plaguing your work for years. They explain the solution, how they will implement it, and ask for your thoughts with unbridled enthusiasm. As you start to address their solution with a critical eye, they quickly dismiss your critiques as either not important or already taken into account. Within a day, they have set up camp next to your desk and have started to implement their solution. Your boss seems just as confused as you are, as no one really knows who they are, where they came from, or who they are responsible to. Within a few days, they have finished implementation of their solution (which completely ignores the 100 other tasks you must do each day), dropped a manual (not in English) on your desk, and rushed out the door, leaving you shell-shocked as to what just happened.

As ridiculous as the above may sound, the overarching themes are not that far removed from the reality of many development projects here in Haiti. Solutions are shipped in without counsel, context, or cooperation. Projects are implemented whether the recipient is on-board or has an understanding of what is being done. And sometimes the projects become more problematic than alleviating. How can this be avoided, how can innovation occur in Haiti, and what can organizations like E2E do to facilitate it?

The first step in understanding innovation in the Haitian context is to think of it as a conversation. Each party involved has a role to play in problem identification, solution innovation, and implementation. This conversation in practice however is not so straightforward. Interests must be aligned, community engagement needs to be carefully managed, and a healthy respect needs to be maintained for the experiences and skill sets present. This exact premise is what led E2E to create its Innovation Incubators – a dedicated tool to facilitate the innovation conversation and ensure that the solutions that E2E creates are not just informed by Haitians, but also created by them.

The cynic may ask, “If the premise is that Haitians already have the ability to innovate, why is E2E even needed?’ A great question, but not all that hard to answer, and best explained with another example. How many times have you been standing in the TSA line in an airport and thought to yourself, “There has to be a better way to do this”? That statement is the seed of innovation, however, I’m going to assume that most of us never get past that point. Why is that? There are a lot of reasons including lack of time, expertise, experience, incentives, etc. But what if while you were standing in that line, an airport security expert explained the entire TSA process to you and five people around you? And after his explanation, he invited you to a workshop to brainstorm ways that the process could be improved. You can imagine that the barriers to innovation have just been greatly reduced. This is exactly what E2E is doing. The ability to innovate is there, but it needs to be facilitated, supported, and incubated. E2E and its partners can bring expertise, resources, and structure to spur the innovation that is needed to make lasting changes in Haiti.

Now I know that there are still some skeptics out there, so I want to give you a non-E2E example of innovation that is happening right now in Haiti on the grassroots level. As many of you know, E2E has two in-country employees, Lamarre Presuma and Jean Edson. Both are locals from Léogâne and have been with E2E for about two years. However, like most Haitians, E2E is not their only gig. Both have multiple activities in motion, one of which is a small group called Resilience Haiti. Resilience Haiti is a group of young Haitians from Léogâne who realized after the post-earthquake relief phase that there was no reason that they could not form their own organization to bring about projects that could change Haiti for the better. They are all volunteers and are completely run and operated in Haiti, by Haitians.

The latest endeavor of Resilience Haiti is a cook stove initiative. Haiti has a large problem with deforestation, in large part to the practice of cutting down trees to sell for charcoal, which is in turn used for cooking. The problems that deforestation and cooking with charcoal cause are wide ranging to both individuals and the community. Resilience, with the counsel of some partners that have done similar projects elsewhere, have created their own increased efficiency stove that uses briquettes created from recycled cardboard, paper, and agricultural waste. They are in the first stages of prototyping but have already started to create a production and distribution plan, as well as a strategy to use income generated by selling stoves and briquettes to replant trees in the Léogâne area.

Lamarre and Edson will be the first to tell you that, although it is a completely Haitian-run initiative, they have relied on foreign partners to make this idea a reality. This support and expertise have given the ability to go from simply understanding the problems that affect their community to actually creating solutions. Additionally, Lamarre, who serves as the president of Resilience Haiti, is already brainstorming ways that the E2E Innovation Incubator process can be used within Resilience Haiti so that they can also ensure they are getting ample community ideas and involvement. You might be surprised to hear that this has been completely unprompted, but believe me, if you spend any amount of time here in Haiti, it will quickly become apparent that the capacity for innovation is alive and well. We, as international partners, have to find ways to support it and encourage it – or as in E2E’s case, use engineering to empower it.

Dustin Mix,

E2E Co-Founder

About the author

Dustin Mix holds Masters degrees from the University of Notre Dame, in both the Civil Engineering and ESTEEM programs.  He also earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 2010.  His research interests lie in natural hazard mitigation and international development, especially in the context of developing countries and heavily 

Updates from Innovation Incubator in Haiti

March has been a busy month for incubator activities! The second initial challenge was again held in the community of Ti Rivye with participants vying to represent their community in the incubator to create processes for the production of housing components. To test their ability to design and implement processes, they were tasked with directing a team to produce five toy cars to specifications E2E provided. The challenge was again a success and congratulations goes to Louise, our first female initial challenge winner! The final initial challenge will be piloted this week and from there, we will expand to other parts of Léogâne! Be sure to check out Innovation Incubator photos on Facebook.

Updates on Our First Home in Haiti

We used the month of March to install the utility systems in the E2E house. Plumbing for water and the sanitation systems were installed, as well as the septic tank. Conduit was also installed, should electricity ever become a possibility for the homeowner. Although running water and electricity are not currently widely available in Léogâne, E2E is installing as much infrastructure as possible so that, should they ever become available, the house will be equipped for them. Next step will be the casting of the frame and panels with our Haitian-made reusable formwork systems donated by the Henn Family! Watch our progress on Facebook.

Updates on the Campus Prototype Capstone

Talk about March Madness! The E2E Team on campus has been hard at work preparing for the E2E Expo. We now have full sets of drawings for two prototype housing designs, and budgets and construction schedule unfolding. Foundation groove and attachment details for the panels have been finalized and mocked up, our panel production process is now yielding full-size panels sequenced from casting through tilt up, reinforcing cages are being prefabbed at an impressive rate thanks to a Haitian-inspired bending template, and using our new batch mixer from Concrete MD, we cast a full-size column to test consolidation through the dense reinforcing cages necessary for seismic resilience. Once we catch our breath, we will add more photos to the E2E Facebook Album so you can see all our progress!

E2E Endorses 5th IDRC Davos 2014

Involved or working in the field of Risk and Disaster Management? The Global Risk Forum GRF Davos invites you to submit an abstract for oral presentation, poster presentation, a session or a workshop on one of the conference topics. The 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC Davos 2014 will be held under the theme "Integrative Risk Management – Science, technology and implementation to strengthen the post 2015 framework" from 24 - 28 August 2014 in Davos, Switzerland. More information is available at