Local Hands, Bright Future: a Reflection from Thad Simons

From Thad Simons, former President and Chief Executive Officer of Novus International and Co-Chair of “Local Hands Bright Future” Capital Campaign
October 20, 2022

When I reflect back on Dr. Pat and MFK Haiti, I recall a meeting in my office at Novus International.  I came to know Pat through one of my associates who was originally from Brazil and Pat was his son's pediatrician. My son had also been on a college trip to support building a school in a remote part of Haiti and my wife and I had bought many Haitian art pieces to support the effort for the school. The artists have a tremendous sense of color. I only knew of the poverty and the political challenges I read about in the newspaper. Pat was very clear-eyed about the situation in the country and made it clear that getting involved there was not for the faint of heart. 

Pat and her family had traveled to Haiti many times to bring medical treatment and food to the starving children there.  But pretty early on she saw the potential of doing something more than saving a single child as important as that is.  She saw the potential of setting up a factory in Haiti to produce medical food with Haitian workers and sourcing from Haitian farmers.  By creating jobs in Haiti, she would save not only the starving children but create livelihoods for whole families. 

This was unheard of and not at all how a normal food relief agency worked. By the time the fundraising started for the new factory, she had already set up and run several other facilities on a small scale.  It was a brilliant move that directly challenged the Haitian model of an economy built off of a debilitating cycle of philanthropic projects with limited funding cycles.  She used philanthropy to build an eventually self-sustaining business. 

MFK was determined to source as much of the raw materials locally as possible - even bringing agronomists from the US to teach farmers how to grow peanuts.  Building a local supply chain of raw materials, supplying a local factory, producing high-quality medical food, and saving starving children, was a vision unique and hugely impactful. 

Pat reached out to me and our mutual friend Dr. Peter Raven to be the co-chairs of the fundraising for the new factory and at the February 2012 Gala. It was our honor to do so. 

I tried to make it to the Grand Opening of the factory, but Hurricane Sandy had other plans and I was delayed by a day.  Dr. Pat and the team went on with the ceremony. Despite the destruction in other parts of the country, the factory was unscathed.  I spent an eye-opening week with one of the American agronomists visiting farms of peanut growers and also fish farming operations at schools and in ponds across the country.

I believe the model that Dr. Pat imagined and that MFK Haiti implemented could benefit many developing countries using philanthropy and technical assistance to build local businesses to support local communities. 

Congratulations on achieving 10 years of continuous improvement and growth and saving children in this factory. I have every confidence in your success over the next 10 years. 

Thad Simons

Co-Chair, “Local Hands Bright Future” Capital Campaign