Denis O’Brien is optimistic about Haiti and Ireland
Irish billionaire talks Ireland, Haiti and the future of media
You may not expect to find an Irishman contributing to a panel discussion on investment in Haiti, but businessman Denis O’Brien earned his place at the recent Clinton Global Initiative alongside former President Bill Clinton and newly appointed Haitian President Michel Martelly, to name a few.
When the influential Irishman greets me with a strong handshake in Manhattan’s Sheraton Hotel last Wednesday afternoon, the talk immediately turns to his work in Haiti.
One of Ireland’s most prolific entrepreneurs, O’Brien’s vast business portfolio stretches across the world in varied industries making him a billionaire tycoon. In Ireland everyone knows O’Brien due to his savvy business nature, his involvement in a public inquiry (the Moriarty Tribunal) into certain payments to politicians and his vast fortune.
O’Brien was in New York to participate in the annual Clinton Global Initiative, an event he describes as a proactive version of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“Davos is interesting and there are very good sessions there, but nobody makes any promises or makes any commitment to do something, where as President Clinton and CGI is all about doing something,” says O’Brien.
Denis O'Brien lends Digicel plane to Concern to fly relief supplies to Haiti
O’Brien’s ties to Haiti were established before the earthquake struck Port-au-Prince in January 2010, claiming the lives of over 200,000 people.
His connections to the Caribbean began with the development of his mobile phone company, Digicel, which now has over 11 million subscribers in the Caribbean, Central America, and Pacific regions, but the Irishman has a special interest in Haiti.
“We are the largest foreign direct investor in Haiti. We are trying to break the rules of capitalism here a bit, we are saying that we are interested in making a profit, but in a country like Haiti you would feel very guilty about making large profits without doing something meaningful, and hence what we have tried to do is say let’s fix a few things,” he says.
One of those things is a focus on education. O’Brien himself, who attained a MBA from Boston College, says you cannot underestimate the importance of education in a country such as Haiti, where 87% of schools were destroyed or damaged as a result of the earthquake.
“In the last 12 months we have built 48 schools and we will have another two finished by the end of October,” he says.
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