The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti was a catastrophe not only for the loss of life it caused, but also because it destroyed the very thin layer of state administrative capacity that was in place in the country. This article argues that the fragility of the Haitian state institutions was exacerbated by international strategies that promoted NGOs as substitutes for the state. These strategies have generated a vicious circle that, while solving immediate logistical problems, ended up weakening Haiti's institutions. However, the article does not call for an overarching condemnation of NGOs. Instead, it explores two cases of community-based NGOs, Partners In Health and Fonkoze, that have contributed to creating durable social capital, generated employment and provided functioning services to the communities where they operated. The article shows that organisations that are financially independent and internationally connected, embrace a needs-based approach to their activities and share a long-term commitment to the communities within which they operate can contribute to bringing about substantial improvement for people living in situations of extreme poverty. It concludes that in the aftermath of a crisis of the dimension of the January earthquake it is crucial to channel support towards organisations that show this type of commitment.