The outpouring of concern and donations for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti confirmed what we already know, people are good hearted and want to help.
Geoff Livingston has done a fantastic job over at Mashable identifying the five social media lessons learned from Haiti: the maturation of mobile giving, the unfolding narrative of the disaster shared on channels like Twitter, the integration of social and traditional media, the glossing over of the underlying issues and story of Haiti’s history of poverty and corruption that excerbates natural disasters, the potential for short-attention spans for the long and difficult road to recovery for Haiti.
I’ve also been blown away by the reaction of the tech community, spearheaded by the inexhaustible Andy Carvin of NPR, of an event called Crisis Camp organized by a grassroots networked called Crisis Commons. The commons and the camp are geeks coming together around an urgent need to crowdsource a panoply of efforts to support, in this case Haitian, relief efforts. They include translation, basic maps of the country, mapping of NGO efforts, mobile applications for crisis response, and family reunification systems.
I am struck by a few things from all of this swirl of activity. Just how quickly people can be mobilized to do more than give money is amazing. But there is something else going on. After Katrina, there was a huge gap between the amount of money given by individuals and foundations and the amount given by governments, specifically the difference was $6b from private donors vs. $120b from the government.
That gap will be much closer this time for two reasons in particular: the economy that has strapped individuals and governments and the destitution of the Haitian government. Just a week after the earthquake, Americans had already pledged $275 million for Haiti. The US Government and the World Bank combined had pledged $200 million.
In light of this growth in the size and importance of private donations for natural disasters around the world, we should have some guidelines as a sector on how to advise people to give. This is to avoid the confusion and diffusion of giving that happens in a sector that is genetically predisposed to order of any kind. For instance, many people, including me, immediately added Jean Wyclef’s Yele Haiti to their short list of organizations to give to. My rationale was that they were established in country and could help facilitate the logistical mess of trying to disperse food and aid within the country. But now I think that was a mistake. They aren’t a large organization, they don’t have any particular expertise in disaster relief, and there have been reports of previous financial mismanagement.
I liked Rosetta Thurman’s post here on what to give — and what not to give — for Haitian relief. For instance, she said don’t donate cans or clothing, there is no transportation to get them to Haiti, and even if they were delivered there isn’t the infrastructure to distribute them.
So, here’s my proposal. We need a Nonprofit National Disaster Gameplan for the next disaster. Our efforts are too large now to be ignored, we are not just a shadow of government, or UN or World Bank support efforts. We need an agreed upon plan, similar to what the Crisis Commons is developing of the kind of aid, and the best groups to provide that assistance, in the immediate wake of a disaster.
I know this flies in the face of free choice in funding that we hold so dear as a sector, but, really, folks, don’t you think we can agree that when hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of lives are lost or at risk, we can agree that The Red Cross has to be first responder? But there are others, like CARE and Doctors without Borders. We need to make a short list of the organizations we should endorse who have the size, expertise and expertise to provide support anywhere in the world for a disaster. Seems to be a good job for Independent Sector.