Responding with leadership to the crisis in Haiti - Catholic Courier

Responding with leadership to the crisis in Haiti

There are big differences between leaders and managers. Managers administer; they mind the store. But leaders innovate.

Managers hold the fort, leaders develop new frontiers. The manager imitates; the leader originates.

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania proved himself to be an innovative leader in his response to the crisis in Haiti. A consummate politician who is always in touch with the people, Rendell responded immediately to a plea from two Pennsylvania sisters, Jamie and Ali McMurtrie, who ran an orphanage in earthquake-shattered Haiti.

As a result, 54 orphans are now in Pittsburgh awaiting adoption and new interest is being shown to children already awaiting adoption in Pennsylvania orphanages.

The earthquake occurred on a Tuesday. The governor was on the ground in Haiti for six hours the following Monday, having chartered a plane from Republic Airways.

He assembled a rescue team from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Red Cross and Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh. U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, a western Pennsylvania Democrat, was on the flight; he used his contacts in the White House and State Department to obtain visas for the children.

A neonatologist who was part of the medical team on the rescue flight told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette: "I felt a little safer with Gov. Rendell on board, and I don’t think any of what transpired would have if the governor had not been on board. Clearance for the plane to land, getting the kids released with special visas; I think without him, none of it happens."

Rendell agreed to accompany the Pittsburgh group after Haiti’s ambassador to the United States told him that his help might be needed to cut through any red tape on the orphans’ behalf.

"The ambassador said, ‘If problems crop up, you are the only one to get it done,’" said Rendell at a press conference upon his return. "To some extent, that proved true."

The objective was to get two and a half tons of medical supplies donated by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center down to Haiti and to bring the children back. The governor and his team accomplished both.

As the rest of us contribute whatever we can to the relief effort, we have to think long term about eliminating poverty in Haiti. As David Brooks pointed out in The New York Times, when a magnitude 7 earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area on Oct. 17, 1989 — remember seeing it as you watched the World Series game between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants? — 63 people were killed.

When an earthquake of the exact same magnitude struck near Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010, uncounted thousands died.

The difference? Poverty.

Flimsy construction, a weak economy, the colonial legacy, illiteracy and widespread political corruption describe the collapsed infrastructure of a broken nation. Rebuilding it will require strategically applied economic assistance, education, engineering, political stability and integrity in government.

It will also take a lot of time.

Locate the Caribbean island of Hispaniola on your map and notice that it contains two sovereign nations — Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Investigate the disparities between them — economic, political, cultural, and then give some thought to what is both possible and achievable in the monumental task of Haitian reconstruction.

Management won’t do it. Leadership might.

But leadership without intellectual resources and a global commitment to social justice will come up short. There’s also need for a higher power.

Review the images of devastation in Haiti and heed this suggestion: "The world is fragile, handle with prayer."


Jesuit Father William J. Byron is professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and a columnist for Catholic News Service.

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