Introducing “Duke Law in Relief”

December 22, 2010Duke Law News

Conducting legal audits of nonprofit companies is a standard part of the Community Enterprise Clinic curriculum. Through the fall semester, five clinic students challenged themselves to apply this exercise to benefit Haitian relief and development efforts by identifying and assessing high-impact nonprofits operating in the earthquake-ravaged country. The result: “Duke Law in Relief,” a blog summarizing their research and inviting support for five diverse charities the students deemed fiscally responsible and effective on the ground.

After broadly researching aid organizations, 3Ls Nick Collevecchio, Tricia Hammond, Christina Jones, Greg Pollaro, and Brian Schwartz each selected one U.S.-incorporated 501(c)(3) that stood out. Each proceeded to examine the organization’s public corporate and financial documents and press coverage about its work and efficacy, and then interviewed principals and requested further disclosures.

Pollaro selected Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG), which funds small-scale sanitation, water, and renewable energy projects that can be built, operated and maintained by members of the communities they serve; it runs a business-incubation program as one method of funding projects. “AIDG’s projects have enormous potential to address the immediate and basic needs of the population and simultaneously to provide long-term economic benefits,” said Pollaro. “By providing technical assistance to ensure that the residents can build and maintain their own clean water and energy production, AIDG provides much more than a simple handout.”

Jones focused on the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP), which provides comprehensive merit-based scholarships and support for students to pursue post-secondary education. “I wanted to support an organization that attacked Haiti’s poverty in two ways — by providing individual Haitians with an opportunity for education, as well as providing the country with educated professionals to help spur economic development,” she said. “When researching organizations, I found that HELP’s alumni had a 100 percent employment rate upon graduation.”

The Lambi Fund of Haiti, Schwartz’s chosen charity, promotes civil society and democracy in the country through its support of grassroots organizations and development projects. “Throughout its history, Haiti has been beset by relatively ineffective — and often harmful —governance and regimes,” said Schwartz. “I think that promoting a lasting democracy in the country will help Haiti to lift it out of its systemic poverty and contribute to successful economic development.”

Collevecchio’s choice, 1000 Jobs Haiti, combats poverty through the development of fair and sustainable employment programs. “I selected the organization because I share its interest in developing self-sustaining communities by fostering commercial relationships and entrepreneurial development, and feel that such work has great potential for the future in Haiti and elsewhere,” said Collevecchio.

Hammond has first-hand knowledge of the work of her chosen charity, Medical Missionaries, having volunteered in its Thomassique clinic during her 1L spring break. “Against every obstacle, their hospital has become the largest provider of jobs in Thomassique, and the primary source of health care for over 100,000 Haitians in the Central Plateau,” she said of the 13-year-old organization. “‘The greatest wealth is health’ — and Medical Missionaries is truly giving the greatest wealth to Haiti’s most impoverished region.”

“This has been an exciting project for the clinic and it was a great vehicle for several of our teaching objectives,” said Clinical Professor Andrew Foster who directs the Community Enterprise Clinic. “First, it provided a very complex problem — how do a few Duke Law students, with relatively little knowledge of Haiti, try to make a difference for that country while not leaving Durham — that the students had to take initiative to solve. Additionally, it offered the challenge of designing and implementing a corporate due diligence process. Finally, it’s been a unique project for us in that the students had to figure out how to take what they discovered about their organizations and figure out how to broadly disseminate that information.

“Involvement with communications and media is certainly something that transactional lawyers do regularly, but is not taught much in law schools,” he said. “All in all, I am really proud of what the students accomplished and am pleased that the project advanced our educational and service goals so well.”

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