In 2012 Fast Company magazine named Laura Hartman (Vincent de Paul Professor of Business Ethics) to "The League of Extraordinary Women" for her work in Haiti, which has included helping her brother, Mark Pincus (founder and CEO of Zynga), raise more than $14 million through Zynga.org (the philanthropic arm of Zynga). A small portion of this was used to build l'Ecole de Choix or the School of Choice in Mirebalais, a town 60 km northeast of Port-au-Prince.
“Traditional Haitian schools have no electricity, no water, and no textbooks; at 12:30 the children are done for the day because there’s no food for lunch. And many of the teachers have a sixth grade education, at best,” says Hartman.
“The School of Choice is an example of ‘positive disruption’: it’s bringing a quality education — including well-prepared, well-educated teachers, excellent facilities, and a curriculum focused on leadership development at the elementary level — to children living in the most extreme poverty. While it’s not affiliated with DePaul, the school does reflect the Vincentian mission: we are creating access for students who would, otherwise, never get an education.”
When discussing the venture, Hartman never uses the word charity or even philanthropy. “The school is a ‘profitable partnership’ — any corporation with an interest in Haiti’s economy should want to invest in its future. If Haiti’s educational system persists as it is right now, Haiti’s economy will also persist as it is right now. An investment in the School of Choice today will yield educated, professional, sophisticated leaders tomorrow. We can make a difference with one school. Through education, we’ll see progress in Haiti.”
In her research and in the classroom, Hartman explores and explains this concept of profitable partnership: “What drives people and corporations? And how can these drives be balanced? Corporations have to make money; that’s why they exist.
On the other hand, non-profits and community organizations also serve a valuable purpose. In charitable giving, a company reaches into its pocket again and again, and eventually the pocket is empty. Investing, on the other hand, creates value. So, I want companies to recognize that an investment in Haiti and in the School of Choice is a business opportunity. A profitable partnership is an investment in a community, in capacity building, and in sustainable, positive change.”
Behind that value-driven perspective is a practical philosophy: “Every human has dignity, and that dignity is protected with justice,” she says. “I teach my students that they are not what they think, not even what they believe: they are what they do. That’s the heart of ethical business practices.”
One investment in the School of Choice is coming from Farmers 2 Farmers, whose representatives will teach the students’ families modern farming techniques. “If they can farm more productively, they’ll be able to make more money — the money they need to support their families, including the cost of sending a child to school,” say Hartman.
“While we have loyal investors — many from the DePaul family — we’re always looking for sustainable funding for l'Ecole de Choix. If we can keep this one school open, maybe we could build a School of Choice in every department [district] in Haiti: 10-12 schools would create a real groundswell of change.”