In Minnesota, Rep. Keith Ellison Spreads the Word about Diaspora’s Role in Humanitarian Response

When disaster unfolds, diaspora communities around the world want to help. But in times of high stress, worry, and uncertainty, it can be hard to know exactly how.

At USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information (USAID CIDI), it’s our passion to spread the word about effective disaster donations, especially for diaspora hoping to contribute to relief efforts. If you take nothing else away from this post, please know this: Cash is Best.

Last week, we flew to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to discuss the importance of post-disaster cash donations with local East African diaspora communities. We were warmly welcomed by the East African diaspora – and by Representative Keith Ellison, (D-MN), who co-hosted an event focusing on donations best practices in support of people affected by humanitarian crises.

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Rep. Ellison speaks with members of Minnesota’s East African diaspora. Photo by Mustafa Jumale.

The Twin Cities is home to a large population of African Diaspora. Similar to other U.S.-based diaspora groups, these communities are frequently the first to respond to disasters in their home countries, either with financial or in-kind donations. Diaspora groups often want to plug into the existing humanitarian structure, but aren’t sure how.Here is what U.S.-based diaspora communities are learning about donating during humanitarian crises:

  1. Cash is Best. These three words are so important. Donating cash to relief organizations working on the ground is the best way to support survivors and help affected communities. Cash gets help to the people who need it most urgently. It is flexible, economical, and requires no transportation. Giving cash also means you’re investing in the local economy, as opposed to material donations, which can be financially harmful to local merchants.
  2. Material donations can hinder, rather than help, relief efforts. Unsolicited material donations like clothes, canned food, and even bottled water can hinder relief efforts by diverting relief workers’ attention. They also clog up already-limited work space and require time and heavy equipment to transport and manage. These donations, though well-intentioned, can often show up in the wrong place at the wrong time and can be rendered unusable due to unforeseeable circumstances, like weather conditions, animals, or disease.
  3. Cash goes farther than material goods. As we mentioned, cash is fast, flexible, and cheap to transport. Shipping material donations to a disaster zone can cost thousands of dollars—money that could be used to help the relief effort. For example, shipping just six bottles of water from Miami, FL to the city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo costs $323.33. That $323.22, as a cash donation, could buy 64,666 liters of clean water locally.

That’s why it’s extra important that we communicate USAID CIDI’s “Cash is Best” messaging to diaspora communities in Minneapolis – and across the U.S. We are so grateful to the diaspora members who attended our event, and for the support of Congressman Ellison in spreading this message.

For more information on why cash is the best donation after a disaster, please visit our Guidelines for Giving, calculate the cost of shipping with our Greatest Good Donations Calculator, or take a look at our Frequently Asked Questions.

And don’t forget to spread the word on Twitter and Facebook!

Barlin Ali and Safiya Khalid are members of USAID CIDI’s Diaspora Outreach Team.