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The Long-Term Challenge in Haiti for Nonprofits

March 2009

Reprinted from GreatNonprofits

The global response to [January's] devastating earthquake in Haiti was unprecedented in a number of ways, including the critical roles played by technologies like mobile phones and social media.

[According to MSNBC,] in the first 10 days following the disaster, Americans used their cell phones to donate over $30 million, which represented roughly 14 percent of all U.S. donations toward relief in the island nation during that period.

Meanwhile, since the earthquake destroyed local infrastructure including traditional communication media, social media like Twitter and Facebook quickly emerged as the primary channels for information flowing into and out of the country.

To their credit, many aid organizations have been quick to recognize the importance of these new tools, which clearly have the potential to transform the way societies can recover from the effects of natural disasters in the future.

“It used to be that information-sharing in disasters was largely looked at as a one-way information transfer from relief groups to affected communities,” Adele Waugaman of the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership told Cristina Romero of the European Journalism Centre. “Increasingly, through, technologies that allow for crowd-sourced information, affected communities themselves are becoming a critical source of information in disaster response.”

In addition to the significant roles played by cell phones and social media, a third tool also largely based in technology is now emerging for addressing the longer-term issue of how to help Haiti rebuild itself after the earthquake.

This is the critical opportunity to evaluate which nonprofits are most effective in managing the challenges on the ground as the Haiti effort emerges from the first-stage disaster relief phase to the much more challenging task that lies ahead—how to help the poorest country in the hemisphere recover and rebuild itself so that it might better survive natural disasters in the future.

This is what GreatNonprofits is all about, of course, providing the platform for donors, staffers, volunteers, and clients to rate the effectiveness of the various groups actively involved in the earthquake recovery effort.

As we learned from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the earliest stages of getting emergency help to victims soon becomes overshadowed by the long-term effort to meet the essential needs of those trying to rebuild their shattered lives.

In areas of great poverty, such as Haiti (but also along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in New Orleans), this work is complex, involving the construction not only on schools, clinics, and highways, but of implementing new strategies for combating the causes of the endemic poverty that condemns so many victims to homelessness, disease, and hunger following the disaster itself.

The opportunity for Haitians and the aid organizations helping them, therefore, is no less than to transform the country into a new society that is better able to resist the devastation of future disasters, via projects such as stronger building codes, better sanitation systems, improved communication infrastructure, and a much deeper commitment to universal education and economic development.

Much of this will involve nonprofits. Many of them, in turn, will be smaller and less well-known than the more prominent organizations that led the first stage of disaster relief, while the eyes of the world were still firmly on the drama unfolding in and around Port-au-Prince.

One of the core goals of GreatNonprofits is to provide the platform for these less-glamorous groups to gain the visibility they need to continue to attract the resources necessary for what will inevitably prove to be a very long, complicated, and expensive period of recovery in Haiti.

Toward that end, we have only just begun. Please visit our Haiti Disaster Action Center to help us develop this new effort into the kind of vital resource that will be so badly needed in the months and years to come.

David Weir
© 2010, GreatNonprofits. Reprinted with permission.

David Weir is vice president of communications for GreatNonprofits. GreatNonprofits is a Web site where people who have firsthand knowledge of a nonprofit—board members, volunteers, donors, recipients of services—can tell others about their experiences with the organization.