Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | January 10, 2012

ULC’s Essential Questions for 2012

The first blog entry of the New Year, I’m afraid to say, is coming to you already 10 days into the new year!  Sorry for the delay.  We all at ULC hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that your new year is off to a fantastic start.

To start the year off, I thought I’d answer a list of questions listed from a blog I read this morning, 29 Questions for better philanthropic conversations by Nonprofit Nate. (Thanks for breaking my writer’s block, Nate!)  Of the 29 Questions, 14 were aimed at organizations while the other 15 were directed at individuals, so let me answer the questions from the perspective of our organization.

1.  What motivates your employees and staff?

Before answering, let me first say that we do not have paid staff here in the U.S., although we are currently working on grant opportunities to fund a consulting librarian and to fund salaries for the executive director, a communications specialist and a development officer.  The only staff we have are the three who work at our library in Pilate, Haiti.  What motivates those of us doing unpaid work for ULC is a passion to make a difference in this world, to help those less fortunate, and to be part of something at the grassroots level that has the potential to have an enormous impact.  While I don’t know that I feel entirely comfortable answering for them, I believe what motivates our staff in Pilate is a desire to improve not only their personal situations by having a decent income, but to improve their professional knowledge base in a very unique organization which allows them to develop a wide variety of new skills.

2.  What does the organization look like in 5 years?  10 years?

This past fall, our board of directors developed a new strategic plan.  (If you’d like to read our plan, please email The board determined:

I.     To establish four fully functioning community-based libraries in Haiti

II.     To assure organizational sustainability

III.     To advocate for public policy that supports our mission

Now, that is not in a five year period, but rather a three year period.  So, in the next three years, we will open three more libraries and bring the facility in Pilate to a position where it is more equipped to fulfill the needs of the community.  One way we will be doing that is to build a new facility to replace the small leased space we have now.  Another way will be to establish a Book Mobile program to help get books out to remote areas surrounding Pilate for people who cannot make it in to town easily.  Each of the four facilities will offer enrichment programs to the communities the learning centres are to serve, programs that will be purely based on the community’s specific needs.  For example, in Pilate, we determined through a survey of school administrators and teachers that there is high need in the area of math and science methods for teachers in the area.  Based on that need, we have put together a committee of curriculum developers and educators who are designing a curriculum plan for workshops to help teachers develop their skills in teaching math and science.  The goal is to create a “Train the Trainer” program so that local teachers can lead the workshops for their community rather than having “outsiders” leading the workshops.  In these next three years, in addition to establishing public libraries, we set those libraries on the path to becoming true learning centres for their communities.

In regard to the second and third goals, we will assure our sustainability by continually strengthening our infrastructure with appropriate policies and practices, by developing our board and other supporters, and by investing in our site-based staff’s development and training; and we will advocate for public policy through partnerships with like-minded organizations and through strong public relations that allow us to clearly articulate our message.

Looking past the three-year plan, we picture ULC opening learning centres in each of Haiti’s ten departments (states), having moved from our more fledgling “library” model to a “learning centre” model where the focus is on providing all types of learning for all types of learners.  We will have begun the shift from print materials to a virtual collection, as libraries across the world are doing.  We will have developed a clear, reproducible model for our organization and our learning centres. We imagine ULC as a nationally prominent NGO in Haiti by the end of the next ten years, and if all goes according to plan, by that point, we will be looking to other developing nations who might benefit from our model.

3.  What are your costs per client?

We see our “clients” as the communities we serve.  When developing our strategy for building libraries in Haiti, we consulted an architect and his team of professionals with experience in library design.  We came up with a tiered approach.  There will be four “tiers” or options when determining size of a library, based on this formula: 

Yes, this would mean that ULC has some major fundraising to do in the next year.  The facility in Pilate will be Tier 4, meaning that we will need to raise more than $300,000 for the project.  The centre in Ouanaminthe will be a Tier 2, although at least initially, we do not plan to build but rather to use space that we are hoping to be granted by the local government for our first ten years.  However, we will need approximately $85,000 for 2012 to ship the 25,000 books from Canada, to hire and train staff, and to renovate a facility.

4.  What sort of impact are you getting for that?

It’s easy to refer back to the size of the communities we serve (approximately 50,000 in Pilate and 120,000 in Ouanaminthe).  That’s the simple answer.  But in all honesty, the impact is far greater than that as we have the potential to affect generations to come and not simply the actual population.  I know it’s sort of a cliche, but this is a clear example of the trickle-down effect in that with even just one person who benefits from one of our centres will in turn pass that on to others.  Also, as time passes and we hone our services, we will be expanding our reach naturally with more targeted programs.

Immediate/short term impact can be seen more easily.  When setting up the initial library in Pilate, Founder, Jacques Jean and volunteer, Saskia Van Vactor, had a conversation with a student who was working on an art project in the library.  The child had been assigned the letter “z” in the picture alphabet the kids were illustrating and was stumped.  When a zebra was suggested, it came out that the student had never seen a zebra.  The simple act of pulling a book off the shelf and showing the kids a zebra remedied that problem and opened the doors of their minds to exotic animals in other countries.  Imagine the impact that tiny little gesture had on them.

Another examples of such direct, immediate impact the books in Pilate can have on the 640 card-carrying patrons include:

  • Enhancements for teachers’ lesson plans
  • Research for students working on homework assignments
  • Assistance for health professionals, parents and the community at large in regard to health concerns like cholera

5.  Summarize your strategic plan for me.

Rather than increase the length of this already wordy blog, I’ll simply ask that you refer back to question #2.

6.  Who’s doing similar-type work?

The small handful of libraries in Haiti are certainly serving a purpose, and many of them are private collections used for specific groups such as schools and churches.  Throughout the country, there are small libraries with extremely limited collections that sever specific groups.  To our knowledge there are no libraries that would live up to the commonly held image of a library.  In Port-au-Prince, there were more libraries than in the rest of the country, but the earthquake left many, if not most, of them in shambles.

The Haitian Ministry of Culture has a “Centre de Lecture et d’Association Culturelle” (or CLAC, translated as “Reading Centre and Cultural Association”) which has opened libraries in the past and intends to continue doing so.  To our knowledge of CLAC, in the past 10 years, they have implemented 10 libraries but we have not been able to get specific information about their locations or services they are offering. We expect to meet with government officials to explore and understand the scope of their work, but  as of this moment, we have seen a significant lack of library presence across Haiti. 

In Pilate, we have partnerships with nine local schools and distributed nearly 5,000 books for circulation in their classrooms and for use by their teaching staff.  This provides students and teachers immediate access to books they would otherwise not have available to them, and saves them trips to the main library that are often inconvenient due to their work/school schedule.

While ULC would certainly be happy to work with the CLAC and other ministerial agencies, ULC is a nongovernmental organization and very purposefully so.  We do not intend to be involved in politics as an organization, and are careful not to relinquish our independence by forging alliances with government organizations who would naturally need to control aspects of projects which we ourselves would prefer to control.

7.  How are you working with, or at least learning from them?

continue developing a relationship with the Ministries, especially the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Literacy.  We have plenty to learn from them in regards to what they’ve accomplished and what their goals are, and we hope to share with them our plans and to gain their support for our efforts.  We believe ULC and these Ministries complement each other nicely and hope that in the future we will have a strong, mutually beneficial relationship.

In regard to the schools we have partnered with in Pilate, we have conducted a survey of their needs and the state of their facilities to determine how best to serve them, and we continue to value the relationship we have with the administrators at those schools as well as with the superintendent of the region. 

Another way we are constantly learning include exploring partnerships with other nonprofit organizations, like the partnership we have built with Harvard Medical School Basic Science Partnership.  We are always networking with organizations, small and large, to determine how we might help one another.  We also have formed a Library Advisory Committee to help steer us in the right direction as we plan and then implement our plans in Haiti.

8.  What’s the best way for me to introduce my network to you?

Please email the Founder, Jacques Jean, at, or the Executive Director, Dana Jean, at  And, please be sure to link to us on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, and YouTube, by going to our newly redesigned website,   We would be happy to set up a one-on-one introduction or to speak to a group of most any size, such as a church, school or business.

Also, please be sure to share our website and social media links to your friends and colleagues.  It is hugely helpful to us in expanding our reach.

9.  What connections/introductions can I make for you?

Honestly, we are hoping to develop relationships with people we have seen who have passion for Haiti.  Namely, on our “short list” (in no particular order) are Sean Penn, actor and founder of J/P HRO, Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta of CNN; Paul Farmer, author and founder of Partners in Health; and Bill Clinton, founder of the Clinton Foundation and co-founder of the Clinton Bush Fund for Haiti which have both shown great successes in Haiti.  The passion and commitment this group has demonstrated in regard to Haiti is considerable and they have an energy that we believe rivals our own.  Developing relationships with such people who have an international spotlight would boost our visibility and thus increase our ability to fundraise.

Of course not many people have connections to the people on our “short list.”  What connections can you make for us if you don’t have our “pie in the sky” connections?  Introduce us to people you think have passion for education, an interest in Haiti and the desire to make a difference.  Introduce us to people you know who have resources to offer; of course financial resources are at the top of our list, but also talents and skills in areas such as construction, electrical engineering, international business, finance, and so on.  Introduce us to people you believe have the ability to influence others to bring them to our cause.  But more importantly, just talk us up to anyone who will listen.  It helps us build exposure and widen our audience, and we thank you for helping that way.

In addition to your personal network, please consider introducing our mission and organization to your local government representatives and school district representatives.  We would like to establish “sister” relationships between our learning centres in Haiti and libraries and schools based in the U.S. and Canada.  There are many other ways your representatives can be involved as well.  Thank you for talking us up to anyone you know or choose to approach.

10.  I’m making an unrestricted gift.  Where/how will you use it and why?

At this exact moment, if you make an unrestricted gift, we will use it for the transfer fee to transfer the title of the land donated to us in Pilate.  The unexpected fees could be a few thousand dollars which we had not planned for when budgeting.  When you make your gift, if we’ve already funded that need, we will use your gift in one of three ways:  1) to contribute to the guesthouse project in Pilate; 2) to establish permanent electricity and Internet connection in Pilate; 3) to help ship the 25,000 books from Canada to Ouanaminthe.    

11.  What sort of professional training does your staff have?

As I said, we don’t have paid staff here in the U.S. yet.  Our staff in Pilate was trained and continues for the time being to be trained by founder, Jacques Jean, and volunteers, Saskia Van Vactor, Michelle LeMenager, and Chris Barnicle.  However, we are currently working on a training video that will be used to fill in gaps of knowledge in areas of library science, management, and education.  The team, while experienced and qualified for our current needs, has no real knowledge of libraries in developing countries and therefore has limited ability to envision our end goal, which limits their ability in areas such as community outreach and enrichment programming.  Therefore, the training video will begin to provide them with that vision and to help them know how to position themselves to continue building our dream with us.

12.  What kind of turnover are you seeing and why?

We have not had turnover with our staff in Pilate and do not expect to anytime soon.  We are committed to this team and their development, and we believe they are committed to our mission.  We look forward to a long relationship with each of them.

13.  How does the organization define success – and are you reaching it?

Success is of course enigmatic as most people realize after reaching a goal they’ve set only to realize there’s then another goal ahead of them.  When looking back at our humble beginnings, we believe we are already successful.  When looking at our goals, we have not yet come close to success.  We define our success on a continuum which is ever evolving.  Are we satisfied with where we are today?  Yes.  Does that mean we have accomplished our goals?  No.  Do we wish were further along?  Yes.  Do we think we have it in us to get “there”?  No, we don’t think so.  We know so.  Perhaps we should define success as always believing we are doing what we can with what we have while doing what we can do do more.

14.  Can philanthropy solve this problem?  If so, how much money is needed?  If not, what else needs to happen?

To a large degree, yes, philanthropy can solve the problem of our wanting to do more.  In 2012, we will need to raise in the range of $500,000.  So of course philanthropic donations will solve that problem.  Also needed, however, is for us to continue building our network, to continue developing our board, staff, and other supporters, and to follow our Strategic Plan, which we have designed to lead us to the successes we’ve defined for ourselves.  

Thank you for the challenge, Nonprofit Nate!  Your 29 Questions for better philanthropic conversations were the perfect start to our blogging year and I hope that our answers have helped people understand us a bit better, or to at least open up the conversation as you suggested.  

Tomorrow’s blog, another steal from Nate:  the first half of the questions, directed at YOU, our supporters!



  1. […] you’ll remember, yesterday’s post, ULC’s Essential Questions for 2012 was our response to 14 questions I found on Nonprofit Nate’s post, 29 Questions for better […]

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