When disaster strikes: integrating disaster resilience into philanthropy strategies



Matt Grager

Matt Grager

Disaster preparedness and risk reduction programmes have long been shown to save both lives and money. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that for every $1 spent on preparedness and risk reduction, $7 is saved in disaster relief and recovery costs. The experiences of vulnerable communities investing in preparedness have been shown to saves lives, such as in Odisha province, India, which after 10 years of implementing disaster preparedness programmes was able to lower the death toll from similar storms from 10,000 to 21. It is no wonder that international organizations such as the UN, Asian Development Bank and ASEAN have repeatedly called for the private sector to invest in this important area, whether in for-profit schemes, through public-private partnerships or through philanthropy.

But, for many philanthropic donors, it is unclear where to begin to tackle such large problems, and how to integrate disaster preparedness or risk reduction effectively into their grantmaking and giving strategies. As a result, individuals, corporations and private foundations continue to scramble to fund emergency relief projects each time a disaster strikes. Not only could investment in preparedness and risk reduction lessen the need for relief funding, it could provide much-needed stability to the budgeting and strategy process for many international grantmakers.

Give2Asia and the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction aim to demonstrate how preparedness and risk reduction initiatives can be easily integrated into donor strategies in a way that benefits both the beneficiaries and the donor.

‘Matt Grager in Shymnagar, Satkira, Bangladesh, in a small, ‘untouchables’ village near the largest mangrove forest in the world, the Sundarbans.

‘Matt Grager in Shymnagar, Satkira, Bangladesh, in a small, ‘untouchables’ village near the largest mangrove forest in the world, the Sundarbans.

Step 1: Assess disaster-vulnerable assets and investments

Donors should take a close look at their assets and philanthropic investments in regions vulnerable to disasters and climate change to better understand how they are affected when hazard events such as storms, earthquakes and floods strike. Give2Asia’s recent white paper Disaster Vulnerability and Donor Opportunitycan be a useful resource in evaluating investments in South and South East Asia.

Step 2: Identify priorities for preparedness

The next step is to prioritize. For a corporation, communities near factories and other infrastructure, or with large populations of employees and customers, may be the highest priority. For foundations or individuals, the priority may be supporting preparedness and risk reduction efforts within other philanthropic investments such as education or healthcare. Each donor must weigh vulnerability with potential impact on their partners, assets and investments.

Step 3: Research interventions that meet your needs

With priorities in place, donors can begin to consider the most effective interventions to address disaster and climate change-related threats. To ensure that local context is considered and that target communities are included, it may be wise to contract with local experts to advise on a philanthropic strategy and effective interventions.

This is where community-based approaches are most effective. Large international bodies have called for investments in insurance schemes, infrastructure projects and national government initiatives. While this may be the way to build disaster resilience for an entire nation, donors with a limited geographic or programmatic focus will find much more effective solutions at the grassroots level. Local NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) have long been working within the context of their own community to build disaster resilience. The challenge for them has been a lack of funding and limited capacity. Philanthropy can address those issues, bringing effective solutions to larger populations with far less investment and far greater geographic and programmatic flexibility than could be found in top-down approaches.

Step 4: Identify local partners to implement interventions

Donors will need to identify local NGOs and CBOs capable of implementing the plan. Organizations like Give2Asia provide due diligence evaluations on local groups to ensure they are transparent, reputable and capable, as well as advisory services that accurately map the current landscape of actors. Donors should not expect to simply hand down a plan to local implementing groups, but rather should work with groups to refine the proposed interventions. These local NGOs and CBOs will bring a valuable perspective and help ensure the target community is included and its needs are heard. Increasing community participation and ownership greatly increases the chances of making gains in preparedness and risk reduction.

Step 5: Assess disaster response process and goals

Finally, donors should assess their recent disaster response philanthropy to identify trends or ad hoc processes that have arisen, and ensure that their philanthropic goals are still being met. Parts of the strategy that can be implemented ahead of disasters can be identified during this analysis. If an organization routinely supports immediate relief in certain areas, partnering with relief organizations or with intermediaries such as Give2Asia ahead of time could help your contributions reach beneficiaries more quickly and ease the decision-making burden when a disaster does strike.

Similarly, corporations can make arrangements to automatically establish employee giving funds, including matching programmes, when a disaster strikes in an area of interest. Knowing what kind of support to expect can help local NGOs and CBOs focus resources on responding to the needs of affected communities, rather than on seeking funding at a crucial time.

This proactive approach to grantmaking for community-based disaster preparedness and risk reduction offers donors a real opportunity to save lives and money in communities that are important to them.

Matt Grager is director of the NGO Disaster Preparedness Program at Give2Asia.

Tagged in: disaster resilience philanthropy strategies

Comments (2)

Matt Grager

Claire - Thanks for the comment! I know that Give2Asia's rep in India, Surya Loonker, enjoyed the recent conference in Hyderabad. I look forward to meeting with Mike about collaborating in the future.

Claire Allen

Great article. Evidence Aid (www.evidenceaid.org) looks forward to working with Give2Asia to make research available through systematic research and to ensure that philanthropic donors know where their valuable funds will be best spent. Evidence Aid has also facilitated priority setting meetings for research and this in itself is a timely but extremely useful piece of research. If Evidence Aid can help Give2Asia, please do let us know!

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