In the fall 2010 issue of Wagner Magazine, we go “behind the scenes” with Laura Graham '95, chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and chief of operations of the Clinton Foundation. Here, we take a closer look at her work on Haiti's recovery process.
In the weeks after the January 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Laura Graham '95 and her staff at the Clinton Foundation were working around the clock to organize relief efforts.
“It's a rebuilding process that exceeds anything we've seen in recent times,” Graham reflected on January 29.
Now, as the first anniversary of the earthquake approaches, the rebuilding continues — and Graham, who is President Bill Clinton's chief of staff and the Clinton Foundation's chief of operations, still spends endless hours organizing the process and driving it forward.
Often working 12-hour days, Graham estimated in July that she puts 70 percent of her time into Haiti. She travels there about three times a month and is on the phone daily with people like Gary Conille, the head of office for the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti, and Gabriel Verret, executive director of the Haitian government's recovery commission.
To the many voices who say that not enough has been done to relieve the people's suffering, she says she understands. “We're moving as quickly as possible, but it's never quick enough because of the face of the tragedy you're dealing with.”
At the same time, she's frustrated with the criticism. Her goal is not just to fix Haiti, but to build the capacity of Haitians to help themselves and create sustainable success. The government chose to establish the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission to oversee the rebuilding of the country. This commission, composed of Haitian and international leaders, had to be appointed. Laws had to be passed, legal reviews done, and bylaws written that would let the money flow and the projects be assigned and completed in a transparent way. All of these steps take time.
Graham also points out the untold success stories of the earthquake's aftermath: Outbreaks of disease and widespread violence did not occur, as some had warned. And, she says, recovery is happening — she sees progress on every trip, even if it seems small in the face of the destruction and the need. “Keep in mind that the Haitian government had little capacity beforehand,” she says. “When you drive around the federal district [of Port-au-Prince], you understand the scope of the destruction of the government.” From her perspective, she says, they're “doing a damn good job.”
Other observers say the same about Graham. “Laura is a super facilitator, traffic cop,” says Gabriel Verret. He has been involved in the recovery from the beginning and is constant contact with Graham. “It's been a very positive experience. I've enjoyed it.”
To Dr. Paul Farmer, the well-respected international public health expert who began his work in Haiti, Graham has qualities that make her especially well-suited for the task in Haiti. “She's capable of analytic complexity. She can go from the large-scale to the local in the blink of an eye,” he says. “That's a great gift.”