Grantmakers without borders – Prior local experience crucial to effective disaster grantmaking

In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, Grantmakers Without Borders (Gw/oB) commissioned a study of a group of our members – the American Jewish World Service, Global Fund for Children, Global Greengrants Fund, Global Fund for Women, and Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights – who responded to the disaster. Most had never made grants for disaster relief before.

The study also looked at Oxfam. The organizations all share, among other things, a commitment to working through local organizations, addressing systemic issues, empowering local communities, serving the most marginalized, and promoting the rights of vulnerable populations, especially women.

Gw/oB’s aim was to explore several key issues critical to social change grantmaking: could we identify the characteristics of a progressive disaster response that is shaped by a commitment to human rights? And what could we say about the efficacy of disaster response when it is shaped by social and environmental justice concerns?

The study reinforced a number of important lessons. It is far easier to mount an effective response if the funder is already familiar with the country, the communities, and the local and government structures. Indeed, there is strong evidence to suggest that it can be counter-productive for international organizations to enter a country or region for the first time in an emergency situation. Prior experience with local organizations is invaluable for making sound strategic choices about the mix of organizations to fund and the types of support needed. Genuine participation of survivors, from needs assessment to planning, implementation and evaluation, is necessary for effective and sustainable recovery.

The excuse that there isn’t time to foster participation is belied by the reality that often the only thing survivors have in abundance is time.

For more information
To download Gw/oB’s report on the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, visit

Grantmakers Without Borders
Executive Director: John Harvey
T +1 617 794-2253

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