Please visit to see the new & improved site.
Please visit to see the new & improved site.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Haiti: Raising Money to Solve Systemic Problems

I have been thinking about a statement I read in a blog from Davos last week by one of BT’s thought leaders - J.P. Rangaswami. J.P. said “the key elements that kept repeating themselves [in Munich and in Davos] were these: that Haiti was an economic and social and political disaster more than anything else; Dominica, the other half of the island of Hispaniola, would have suffered far less even if the epicenter was in that half of the island.”

Governments, companies, employees and the general public have risen to the challenge of this disaster with great generosity, but are our efforts as effective as it could have been? Would it have been better had we used the same amount of money to support the development of Haiti well before the disaster, rather than to dig out of it now?

In the case of Haiti it is a moot point. The disaster has happened, the situation is what it is and we need to help. But the point applies to future events and giving.

If we collectively donated the same amount of money for infrastructure development before the disaster occurred, perhaps we could have reduced suffering even more in which case it would have been money better spent. However, I this feels like a cold and calculating way of determining approaches to giving.

There are two challenges facing corporate responsibility practitioners; raising money to solve systemic problems and spending money to solve systemic problems.

Let me put aside for now the question of how that money would have to be spent to achieve the necessary improvements. I will try and consider that in a future post.

As I have written before, it is easier to raise money to feed a homeless person than to support a drug and alcohol dependency program or a job training program for the same person. It is easier to raise money to fund a crew to pull a child from a building than to raise money to pay for more resilient concrete in the first place.

It is an emotional reaction, to which I am subject as much as the next person, that leads us to more readily respond to a person in immediate need than prevent them getting into need in the first place.

Compounding this, disaster response is somewhat measurable and time-bound. How much did companies donate in the first day, first week, first month after a disaster. This is much easier than reporting on and comparing long term activities that improve underlying infrastructure and effect change in society. And companies are drawn to deliverables that are measurable and time-bound.

Somehow we need to look for ways to motivate ourselves, our companies and our stakeholders to be increasingly sustainable in our approach to philanthropy and community investment. Maybe the disproportionately bad impact of the earthquake on the population of Haiti can be a jumping off point for that.

Of course, we will still need to provide support in disasters, but hopefully less will be needed.

1 comment:

  1. I'm working on some of these challenges, and I think "situational urgency" is just killing us in a number of ways.

    The problem with Haiti is that development isn't something that outsiders can do TO a people, they are something that has to be done WITH the people. The will has to be there to embrace certain kinds of systems, not just popular will, but elite will as well.

    Corruption and governance challenges are as much a problem of a lack of elite buy-in to the common good as they are of systemic and institutional deficits. Some people would rather be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion.

    At the same time, populism can be hugely nihilistic. Look at Aristide. Rene Theodore, the head of the communist party in Haiti in the early 90s told me the difference between him and Aristide was that as a communist, he believed you had to produce something in order to share it. Aristide, who he considered an ultra-communist, believed that if your neighbor had something and you had nothing, he should have nothing too.

    There will not be a silver bullet solution for Haiti's recovery. It's going to be a long, hard slog, and it will be impossible if the Haitians don't buy into sustainable solutions.