Share |

Weathering the storm: Disaster philanthropy

There’s little that kills as many so quickly as a natural disaster, and millions of people across the world dig deep when faced with so much suffering. Foundations have pockets deep enough to help, but might not know where to begin.
A cry for help following the 2010 Haiti earthquake
Click to enlarge
©Press Association

There’s little that kills as many so quickly as a natural disaster, and millions of people across the world dig deep when faced with so much suffering. Foundations have pockets deep enough to help, but might not know where to begin.

Eight generations of the Ayala family have helped to build the modern-day Philippines through their eponymous conglomerate, and now, in the wake Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful in history, it is the family’s foundation that is helping to rebuild the communities that were hit.

It is a massive job – more than 6,000 people lost their lives in the November disaster, with a further 2,000 still missing at the time of writing. Thousands of international organisations have jumped in to help, both on the ground and through donations.

The Ayala Foundation has the advantage of its grassroots knowledge and national presence, but after a calamity of this scale, international philanthropists may feel lost when trying to decide where to give. However, with global warming and population growth increasing the frequency and devastation caused by nature’s fury, many foundations are reassessing what they know about disaster philanthropy, and taking steps to redress their ignorance.

After the storm
Those in the coastal communities affected by Haiyan, more than four million people, are starting down the long road to rebuild their homes and their lives.

The Ayala Foundation was quick to act after the typhoon. “We have an office in the Visayas, in Cebu [which took the brunt of the storm], where our people on the ground worked with other Ayala companies to feed over 8,000 families,” explains Maria Lourdes Heras-de Leon, president of the foundation. “Our staff also provided food packs for about 10,000 people in Cebu.” (The record-breaking wind speeds of Haiyan grounded ships, pictured, right.)

Ayala also gave the Department for Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) cash to buy and distribute relief goods, and quickly filled a hole in the DSW’s funding by sourcing and paying for a transportation company to deliver its aid to alleviate a chunk of the agency’s logistical burden.

The Ayala Corporation family empire is vast and the reach of this for-profit enterprise puts an enormous network of resources at the disposal of the Ayala Foundation, the corporation’s non-profit counterpart. Employees from across the Ayala Corporation helped pack goods for the disaster zone and also welcomed refugees at Manila airport.

The Ayala Corporation’s infrastructure was also leveraged. “We have malls all over the country, and we have our drop boxes, and we say [to the Philippine public], ‘if you want to drop in kind, drop it at the mall’ and everything that is in kind we give directly to the Red Cross,” says Heras-de Leon. (The Red Cross at work in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.) 

Located close to the equator and the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines sits in a precarious spot. Haiyan, while by far the most lethal, was only one of 20 typhoons to hit the country last year. The Ayala Foundation understands tackling the chaos left behind needs a multi-pronged approach.

“In any kind of disaster, whether it’s an earthquake, a typhoon or whatever, there are always three forms of support that the Ayala Foundation gives. The first is relief, which is immediate, which is your basic food, clothing and shelter – that’s ‘do something quick and now’,” says Heras-de Leon.

“The second one is to rebuild, and the third is to reconstruct. Now obviously we are participating in all three, but the thrust of the Ayala Foundation’s focus with [Haiyan], like all the communities any time there is a typhoon or earthquake, would always be on the rebuild and reconstruct.”

The Ayala group of companies, guided by the Ayala Foundation, is supporting the call of the Philippine government for private sector businesses to help rebuild communities hit by the storm. Several large businesses are working with the government to develop and fund projects in housing, education or to generate jobs, and also to invite other partners to join them. The Ayala Foundation is working in northern Negros – one of the largest islands in the Visayas, particularly in the cities of Cadiz and Sagay.

As well as providing boats to fishermen (pictured, right) and seeds to farmers, the foundation is also building a disaster-ready school to withstand future storms. “We’ve asked Ayala Land and the construction part of the company to look at the specifications to make sure they are right and the costing is right,” explains Heras-de Leon.

This marriage of business know-how and philanthropy is the foundation’s raison d’être. “It’s the concept of inclusive business and the concept of creating shared value. It’s very simply, whatever social issues we are trying to solve, how can business and industry come in with their discipline and their resources to help and what are those points of intersection? That is where Ayala Foundation comes in,” says Heras-de Leon. She adds, “We say, ‘get back to normalcy but improve your lives from before the typhoon hit’.”

Foreign philanthropists
The Ayala Foundation has the advantage of its community networks and the resources of the Ayala family’s conglomerate at its fingertips, but it is rarely so clear to international philanthropists where their cash can do the most good.

In the hours after a disaster, government agencies and international non-government organisations are usually the first on the scene, and aid charities put a response plan in place as soon as they get wind of what is coming. “We measure all the different weather depressions coming a week or two in advance, things like typhoons,” says Helen D’Oyley, head of major donors at Save the Children. “We see which vulnerable communities are in the way, and then do whatever we can to bolster our teams on the ground to make sure they’re ready.” (The devastation caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, pictured, left.) 

Similarly, the Red Cross is forever on watch constantly monitoring situations and events. “We make sure that we have a well prepared volunteer base that is trained in emergency response, as well as ensuring we have the resources – people, funds, relief stock and equipment – pre-positioned where appropriate,” says Ben Webster, a Red Cross disaster response programme manager.

Sustained giving by private wealthy donors gives these organisations vital flexibility and lets them prepare well in advance. “Quite often with the general public we have to wait for an emergency to hit the press and that’s when lots of people will be generous,” says D’Oyley, “but with philanthropists supporting our Children’s Emergency Fund we can get going within 24 hours.” (Children collect aid parcels following the Indian Ocean tsunami.)

These NGOs are not the only actors on the ground. It is easy to forget that thousands of small, deeply rooted community organisations will also be sifting through the wreckage trying to help their neighbours. These groups, such as churches, neighbourhood watches or even schools or libraries, may not even consider themselves disaster relief organisations worthy of funding, but nonetheless have invaluable local knowledge, and may have vehicles and buildings that can be used to gather and shelter survivors. With a bit of research, a few well-placed grants can create valuable synergies between all organisations involved.

Foundations can save time if they use their networks to find these grassroots groups and offer them support, according to Philanthropy New York’s report Best Practices in Disaster Grantmaking, rather than waiting for requests because it may not even occur to a community organisation to ask for philanthropic cash. Equally, a foundation needs to simplify their grant application process – the one time it is sensible to relax due diligence procedures – bearing in mind the grantee needs to be on the ground, not struggling through layers of paperwork.

In the medium-term, foundations have the flexibility to fill holes in funding by financing services that are not the immediate priority of government agencies or relief charities, but nonetheless smooth the path of the rebuild process. This is what the Ayala Foundation did when it hired a transport company to help the DSWD deliver aid. Foundations could fund counselling to ease the mental suffering of survivors, or lawyers to help with insurance claims or applications for government support, according to the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, which joined the Alabama relief effort after a wave of tornadoes tore through the state in 2011. The duPont Fund estimates funding of legal advice by private philanthropists sped up the rebuild process in Alabama by at least two weeks.

A long-term commitment from foundations and philanthropists can also reduce the strain of the rebuild process. Ninety percent of all donations are given within 90 days of the disaster, and once the catastrophe slips out of the news and the initial shock and sympathy of the international community starts to fade, NGOs and charities can be left frustratingly short of cash. (The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, pictured, left.)

Hidden barriers
Layers of social problems and inequality may well be tangled up in the rubble left by a disaster. The rebuild process is far more than just a bricks-and-mortar job — an important issue for philanthropists to keep in mind if they have no prior knowledge of a region.

Take for example the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Each of the 14, mostly developing, countries hit presented different problems to aid organisations. In Sri Lanka, and also the Indonesian province of Aceh, long-term civil war had divided the populations, and NGOs had to negotiate with governments, with varying degrees of success, on the flow of aid to rebel communities. It is also estimated that three times as many women died in the disaster as men – thought to be due to their efforts to protect their children, their roles processing fish on the shoreline, and also the fact women are generally weaker and less able to cling on to trees for safety. (Debris from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, pictured, right.)  

After the tsunami, women, who were already marginalised in many of the affected societies, often didn’t even have the weight of numbers to make their voices heard. Women-headed households were often overlooked, even though the tsunami appeal received a record $13.4 billion in donations. Charities made errors, according to philanthropic network Grantmakers without Borders, such as concluding that if a family no longer had a man to go fishing it had no need of a fishing boat, ignoring the fact that the remaining members could at least rent it out to generate an income.

In the US, Hurricane Katrina shone a spotlight on racial inequality in the south. Images were broadcast around the world of long lines of mostly African-Americans queuing to shelter in the New Orleans Superdome (pictured, left) before the storm, because lack of money or a car prevented them fleeing the state. Similar problems were exposed after Superstorm Sandy, “You can’t really address the needs of communities without acknowledging that we were already living with a huge affordable housing crisis and vulnerable populations were being pushed to the most isolated areas,” says Michael Hamill Remaley of Philanthropy New York.

Whatever the weather
Despite its growing economy and middle class, many in the Philippines’ coastal communities only make a subsistence living. If a cyclone of equal strength were to hit both Japan and the Philippines, the mortality rate in the Philippines would be 17 times higher, even though Japan has 1.4 times more people exposed to tropical cyclones, according to United Nations data. The problem is not exclusive to the Philippines. Global population growth and environmental degradation has left millions in poorer countries vulnerable to extreme weather.

The PATH Foundation works in many Philippine coastal communities, helping them prepare for future disasters by focusing on health, the environment and family planning. “We are prioritising the poorest of the poor to build their own capacity in terms of livelihood, their homes and education, having water, and having access to services,” says PATH vice president Joan Castro.

In the blackout after the typhoon, PATH gave out solar LED lights to families on the condition they committed to planting at least five mangroves (pictured, right) or moringa trees. “Areas with mangroves became the first line of defence near the shore,” explains Castro. The initiative also improves quality of life in the community: “If the mangroves are intact there is a continuing source of food for [locals] because the mangroves are the sanctuary of young fish.”

PATH understands that none of its programmes can be effective independent of the others. “The link between family planning and managing and conserving resources is a message that has actual value to these families in coastal areas.” Increasingly NGOs are focusing on finding vulnerable communities and helping them build up resilience. “Even if the storms come you know these people are safe – safe in their communities and safe in spite of disasters,” says Castro.

If weather patterns continue to reach greater extremes, disasters will inevitably become more common. Philanthropists have the cash to support the rebuild effort long-term, and if done carefully, offer a brighter future to those who have seen their lives destroyed. But, preparation is always more effective than cure, and focusing on resilience now could save thousands of lives in the future.

Shoulder to the wheel
In a rush to help survivors donors can make some common mistakes, but with a bit of research a foundation’s cash can be a significant driver of the relief effort
Think outside the square. Consider funding things like lawyers, counsellors or even local media to help keep everyone informed. Survivors might not know what they are entitled to in terms of government support, may be suffering from shock, or feel shut out of the information loop.

Become a mediator. Ideologically driven NGOs and charities can sometimes clash, resulting in poor communication and an overlap in efforts. By doing something as simple as setting up regular conference calls between relief organisations, a foundation can help them save time and money.

Keep ground visits to a minimum. It’s perfectly reasonable for foundations to want to see where their money is being spent, but tearing the ground force away from their work to take a tour of the disaster zone is a drain on a small NGO. Information about an NGO’s activities can usually be shared through philanthropy networks.

Reduce your due diligence. Under regular circumstances, a foundation can take its time to evaluate the recipients of its charity, but in the immediate aftermath of a disaster it is best to simplify the grant application process so you can get cash flowing to grassroots organisations quickly.

Be politically aware. If you don’t know the region or the political and social situation there, find someone who can advise you or join existing philanthropy coalitions – do not just blindly give to the largest organisation and hope it reaches those in need.

Stick about when the rest of the world moves on. The majority of public donations are made within 90 days of the disaster hitting. While this is a critical period, foundations should ring fence some of their funding for the long-term clear up and reconstruction effort.

With thanks to Philanthropy New York

Images copyrighted to Press Association

Click here >>