Interview with Daniel Rouzier T’86

Q&A with Daniel Rouzier T'86, founder of E-Power, Haiti’s first private-sector power generation project open to international bidding.

Eight years ago, Daniel G. Rouzier T’86 heard a speech that changed his life—a Kennedy-esque call to action delivered by Haiti’s prime minister at the time. Rouzier, a native of Haiti, had started a tire-distribution company and an automobile dealership and wanted to help his country shed its legacy of poverty. Realizing Haiti’s electrical infrastructure was in tatters, he studied the industry and founded E-Power, Haiti’s first private-sector power generation project open to international bidding. The company opened its facility a year and a day after the January 2010 earthquake and today delivers 30 megawatts to Haiti’s fledgling industrial sector, creating opportunities for economic growth. That might have been the highlight of 2011 for Rouzier, but it was upstaged a few months later when Haitian president Michel Martelly tapped Rouzier to be his prime minister. In the end, Martelly didn’t have the votes in parliament to get him confirmed, but Rouzier, who also serves as chairman of Food for the Poor, which feeds 25,000 Haitians per day, was undeterred. “I’ll keep fighting, keep doing what I can to make things better.”

You were raised in Haiti but schooled in the U.S. Why did you decide to return to the poorest and least developed nation in the Western Hemisphere?

I guess love of country and a belief in one’s mission. Haiti has tremendous potential, but it must help all its children in order to achieve it. I moved back home in 1987 because I believed that I could make a difference. It was the first step in a long journey, and when I’m done, I hope I will have helped reverse the cycle of poverty that is killing the country.

How does Food for the Poor reverse that cycle?

Food for the Poor aims to enrich people spiritually and materially. Aside from feeding people, we build about 3,000 homes per year that we give to the truly destitute. Our homes are given through a local Christian moral authority, a priest or a pastor who is respected in the region and who commits to teaching the recipients Judeo-Christian values, such as love of God, neighbor, and self. The homes are given with proper title to the real estate, so the new homeowner, someone who is totally poor, suddenly has access to credit by having property to serve as collateral. The homes are built in small communities to which Food for the Poor brings training in a trade or an activity that will provide sustainable economic activity to the area.

You put E-Power’s first power plant in the worst slum in Port-au-Prince. Why?

Simply because we felt that where poverty and exclusion are the harshest, you need to build the best infrastructure so you can attract new investment, create jobs, and give people more opportunity to fend for themselves with dignity. And so far, so good. The company is doing well, we’re slowly getting involved in the community, and, in four or five years, I hope that the area will have changed for the better.

How did it feel to be asked to be prime minister?

I never saw myself as a politician. I’m not particularly attracted to politics, especially in Haiti, where it can be a dangerous sport. Of course, I was honored to be asked to serve at such a high level, but I was also terrified—so many people are suffering, and I fully understand the moral and spiritual consequences of failing to improve things. In the end, what convinced me was the possibility to serve even more of God’s children and to allow them to be lifted out of poverty, with dignity.

How are things in Haiti today?

Haiti has not gotten its act together just yet. On a positive note, the secretary-general of the United Nations appointed former President Bill Clinton as its special envoy to the country, and he’s bringing in resources to rebuild it. Also, the new prime minister will be confirmed soon, so I hope we’ll get the country moving in the right direction.