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“What is altruism without effort?”

As a researcher at USAID CIDI, I have spent a great deal of my time conducting research on humanitarian supply chain logistics.  As a result, I now know that the effectiveness of the humanitarian supply chain is critical to the success of disaster relief efforts. We as donors can help logisticians working for professional humanitarian organizations more effectively plan disaster relief operations and better serve survivors by making more effective donations.

When we contribute unsolicited material donations, these can create “logistical bottlenecks” in the humanitarian supply chain that can slow down the provision of aid to those in need.  For this reason, I donate cash to professional humanitarian organizations responding to international disasters because I want to provide them with the opportunity to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.

While it’s not always easy find NGOs that are trustworthy, actively involved in a relief effort, or participating in a way that we as donors want to contribute to, the internet is making it easier for us as donors to do our homework and identify professional humanitarian organizations that we want to support. Websites like GuideStar or Charity Navigator allow us to read reviews from other donors that share their experiences with donating to a particular NGO and offer donors the ability to measure an NGOs legitimacy by evaluating their financial statements, tax returns, and more.  This process does require some time, but what is altruism without effort?

As donors, we rarely consider what happens to our donations after we make them. When I think about what would need to happen for an item to leave my hands and enter the hands of an international disaster survivor, it becomes clear that an incredibly complicated and expensive journey must ensue. How much would it cost to send a pair of jeans from Los Angeles, California to Kabul, Afghanistan?  The answer is roughly $202.05 if you bought the jeans at WalMart and sent them to Afghanistan through FedEx.  Though this isn’t the primary method donors choose to send donations, the process for NGOs that receive unsolicited in-kind contributions is much the same and equally costly.

Monetary contributions, by contrast, provide NGOs with much greater flexibility in the way they can carry out disaster relief operations.  NGOs can exercise bulk purchasing power in countries where the cost of goods in general is considerably less than the cost of the same goods in the United States.  With monetary contributions, NGOs can more easily respond to changing needs on the ground, which is a common occurrence in the wake of severe natural disasters.

I donate cash to international disaster relief efforts for all these reason and simply because monetary donations allow efficient humanitarian supply chains that provide goods and services to disaster-affected people faster.



Eric Chavez (second from left) Senior Research Analyst for The Center for International Disaster Information

Eric Chavez (second from left) Senior Research Analyst for The Center for International Disaster Information

“Just because you didn’t receive a tax write off, recognition from a local organization, or a thank you card doesn’t mean your efforts were unnoticed.”

So if you haven’t heard, #GivingTuesday is all the rage around the holidays! Recognized globally on December 2nd, this day is dedicated to bringing communities, families, organizations, causes and students together for one common goal: to give.

There are so many ways to give back;  whether it’s done anonymously or intentionally, the warm feeling you’re rewarded with is indescribable. The holidays are a time where you are around people you care about the most and every memory is special and imbeds itself into your psyche. That’s what makes it the best time to start traditions; giving a reoccurring role for all to take on and share with their other communities and families.

Whether you choose to give your time, talent, or money, giving back can be done in any fashion. This day fits perfectly between Thanksgiving and Christmas time. So with one day encouraging you to give thanks, another infecting you with cheeriness and acts of generosity, and the one in between actively encouraging you to give, why not donate the best way possible?

Giving money assures that you’ve done your part, and the recipient, who knows the situation best, has comfort in knowing a need is about to be met. I think that is the most important position to view donating from: the position of the recipient. Maybe the need is food and not clothing? How much? What do people need or want to eat? These questions will circulate through the head of the giver who practices #smartcompassion, a giver who channels the desire to give back in the most effective way.

We’re no strangers to donating and giving back. Just because you didn’t receive a tax write off, recognition from a local organization, or a thank you card doesn’t mean your efforts went unnoticed. I think giving money to a friend or family member and not expecting it in return is considered donating. To me, the act of giving itself is what is appreciated by the donor, the recipient, and everyone else.

If you stop and think about it, money travels faster than goods. Cash can meet any need and fill any gap in most circumstances. I think when giving cash, it feels just as good learning that I was responsible for helping build the infrastructure of the organization that feeds children after school as it would feel being responsible for the food they are eating.

With hash tags like #unselfie and #GivingTuesday, this holiday is an excellent way to help push social impact while also giving millennials a chance to be a part of something emerging before our eyes on the platforms we know and love! Great job New York’s 92nd Street Y.



Lauren Chatman, Online Communications Specialist for The Center for Disaster Information.

Lauren Chatman, Online Communications Specialist for The Center for Disaster Information.

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“You wouldn’t want to receive something you didn’t ask for or need at Christmas, let alone during a humanitarian crisis.”

It is Christmas eve and presents are lined beneath my family’s tree. Do you remember that present from a distant relative last year that you opened, cringed and never used? For me it was Barbie dolls when I was sixteen. I appreciate the thought that my relatives put into gifts but sometimes I receive ones I know I will never use. It led me to ask for cash.

Now raise the stakes exponentially. I’m not talking about holiday gift giving but donations given during times of crisis.

In Ebola-stricken areas, healthcare workers may give more than a cringe upon receiving in-kind donations of canned food or used clothing when they are not needed or when those needs have been met. You wouldn’t want to receive something you didn’t ask for or need at Christmas, let alone during a humanitarian crisis. Just as I would hate to give a gift I know would be discarded, I would never want to donate goods that would impede a relief effort. Instead, I donate cash.

It’s difficult to anticipate the needs of a relative; it’s even more difficult anticipating the needs of those in a humanitarian crisis. Cash is best.

 

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This year’s Christmas tree! (an image from Margot Morris, Program Assistant for The Center for International Disaster Information)

 

Smart Compassion has recently been an important issue at the “Ocean State” of Rhode Island.  At the University of Rhode Island’s College of Business Administration, students of the introductory Operations and Supply Chain Management course – BUS 355, taught by Professor Koray Özpolat, have been offered an optional semester-long project called “Humanitarian Logistics Project”

Building on their logistics and supply chain training, teams of three to four students design public service announcements (PSA) to inform the American public about the most effective way to donate in response to the international disasters. These PSAs are then submitted to the national PSAid contest run by USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI).

The outcome has been fantastic. In 2012 and 2013, four URI teams were nationally recognized in this contest which created lots of buzz in the university and state media (below, see a PSA that was awarded the 2nd place in 2012). Not only the winning teams but many other students doing this project received satisfaction. A student evaluated the project as follows:

URI info

Educators willing to adopt a similar project may take a look at the Özpolat et al. (2014)* paper recently published at the Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education.

Overall, contests, similar to PSAid, can successfully be integrated into syllabi of college courses as semester-long team-based projects. While only six PSAs are recognized annually, all contestants are actual winners because their entries are ever-green at the contest website serving the humanitarian relief community in educating their donors.

* Özpolat K.,Chen Y., Hales, D., Yu D., and Yalcin M. G., 2014. “Using Contests to provide Business Students Project-Based Learning in Humanitarian Logistics: PSAid Example”, Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 12(4), 269-285.

 

As Director of D-TRAC in Thailand, I was regularly approached by donors wanting to fund aid agencies  helping with the tsunami recovery. With over 200 aid agencies to choose from they quickly became overwhelmed and sought advice on choosing aid agencies. D-TRAC aid agency folders - Photo by Saundra Schimmelpfennig

The photo is of the blog’s author at D-TRAC. The blue folders are filled with information on different aid agencies responding to the tsunami.

Choosing the right aid agency can be a daunting and frustrating task

Without adequate information or guidelines, many people choose aid agencies based on name recognition, speed of implementation, or percentage spent on administration. Unfortunately, none of these are real indicators of the quality and appropriateness of aid.

Donations can be misused and ill-spent despite the best intentions of donors
Deciding whether or not to donate and which agency or project to donate to can be a daunting and frustrating task. Although donors choose aid agencies that they think will have the greatest impact, aid donations often are misused and ill-spent. This occurs both despite of and because of the best intentions of donors.

How does this happen?
Concerned about aid reaching those who need it the most, many donors give to aid agencies that work quickly and cheaply. Dependent upon donors for funding and survival, aid agencies feel pressured to develop programs that are fast and cheap. Unfortunately, projects with low administration costs and fast implementation rates often have unintended consequences.

Last week John W. Yettaw, an American, swam across a lake and into the compound of the Burmese Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. As a result of this thoughtless and illegal act the Burmese government have put Suu Kyi and two of her servants on trial for breaking the conditions of her house arrest, which bans visitors that have not received official permission.

“Unaware of the problems his actions could trigger”

According to the Associated Press

“Yettaw’s family have described him as an as well-intentioned admirer of Suu Kyi, unaware of the problems his actions could trigger. Her supporters have expressed anger at him for getting her into trouble.”

Suu Kyi and her two servants face the possibility of five years imprisonment. This comes just weeks before May 27th when, after six years of house arrest, Suu Kyi was scheduled to be freed.