The aftershocks of the earthquake in Haiti will be felt for generations. What role should philanthropy play in rebuilding?
I listened in on a recent conference call organized by the partners of Katrina @ 5 about philanthropy’s response to the earthquake in Haiti. Several speakers from government and philanthropy spoke about the current relief efforts in Haiti and the long term role for foundations in disaster response. You can listen to a recording of the conference call here and learn more about Katrina @ 5 on their website. Also, see how Minnesota grantmakers are providing support to Haiti on the Minnesota Responds webpage.
The panelists on the call offered advice to foundations thinking about engaging in disaster philanthropy. Regine Webster, from Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors, emphasized these recommendations:
- Support organizations with long standing history of working in the affected area, especially those organizations that have solid relationships with people in the area.
- Support disaster risk reduction, like disaster-proof construction and other proactive efforts.
- Support underfunded needs in disaster recovery, like mental health and other psychosocial support.
- Commit multi-year funds to rebuild public goods, like schools and transportation systems.
- Support advocacy efforts, not only by encouraging government efforts like debt relief, but also for the creation of more sustained and coordinated disaster preparedness and response.
Rebecca Hove from the Bridgeway Foundation spoke about the importance of developing relationships with people on the ground and with organizations already working in the affected area. She said that the Bridgeway Foundation is providing unrestricted support to local implementers in Haiti who have proven distribution and communications methods and can make sound assessments of urgent critical needs. Bridgeway Foundation has also built a local coalition called Houston Helps Haiti. Hove said that their strong collaborations with organizations and people on the ground has prepared them to mobilize and respond more quickly than many of their colleagues.
Chris Page from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors addressed the reasons why the situation in Haiti is so different from other developing areas struck by disasters. He believes it is because so many institutions in Haiti simply haven’t existed or haven’t been reliable. The recovery in Haiti will be less about rebuilding the country, and more about building anew. Page encouraged donors to look at phases of redevelopment and think about strengthening the country to protect against future losses. Building trust in individuals and institutions creates stability that can lead to a transparent and functional democracy that is more prepared to respond to disasters in the future.
Patrick Corvington, Senior Associate of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and CEO Designate of the Corporation of National and Community Service, is a Haitian American and came to the United States as a teenager. He talked about using his emotional and personal connection with this disaster to help the Annie E. Casey Foundation think about its response. He talked about focusing on one area of relief and thinking through these questions:
- Can we act?
- What value can we add?
- How do we engage?
Corvington said that foundations that do not have relationships with Haiti, do not do disaster relief, or cannot respond as quickly should think about what they do well and how they can contribute in the long term, without getting in the way in the short term. If a foundation can’t respond in the immediate relief effort, how can the organization play to its strengths and provide recovery support months or years after the disaster has occurred?
All of the panelists talked about the long term infrastructure for disaster philanthropy. Here are some suggestions they offered for the foundation community to consider:
- Stay on mission. Either add disaster funding to an existing mission or stay with what you know best and provide information and resources to those working in affected areas.
- Promote donor and philanthropic engagement with established international relief organizations.
- Promote more collaboration between foundations, government, and NGOs in disaster response.
- Instead of taking on a first-responder role, philanthropy should focus on the rebuilding and transforming phases of disaster recovery.
- Philanthropy can help ensure that attention is paid to the long term, ongoing issues the affected areas face after the immediacy of the situation has subsided.
With donations for Haiti slowing, this is an opportunity for foundations to step up and do what they do best: invest in extended and focused support on the needs of a community in order to have a systemic, enduring impact.
The question we should ask ourselves about Haiti should be the kind of question foundations should ask every time they consider responding to a disaster: What kind of Haiti do we want in the future?
- Stephanie Jacobs, member services manager