2012 Conference: Disaster readiness, relief, and recovery require innovation that goes beyond crisis management

Two key takeaways emerged from a Lead and Learn session with FedEx and their partner the Salvation Army at the 2012 International Corporate Citizenship Conference.

1. Build relationships: Always steward the relationships you have with NGO partners. By listening to their needs first, the company will be better positioned to provide the most useful services and information.

2: Build resilience: Promote resilience and pre-disaster preparedness through programs that build community capacity. By focusing on long-term relief, companies can reduce drop-off and cultivate better, more sustainable customers.

Shane O’Connor, program advisor for FedEx, is intimately involved in all three areas of FedEx’s disaster relief portfolio, which include relief, preparedness, and most recently, long-term recovery. FedEx began its long-standing involvement with the Salvation Army by leveraging its transportation capacity, logistics, and shipping capabilities for the transport of life-saving supplies worldwide. These began as a part of direct relief efforts. Although FedEx continues to participate strongly in direct relief efforts, O'Connor and his team soon discovered that their dollars could have a greater impact – as much as seven times the impact – if they focused on disaster preparedness initiatives. The final element of the company's portfolio is long-term recovery initiatives, where their partnership with the Salvation Army has proven critical.

Lindsay Jonker, executive director for the Salvation Army, began his presentation by defining long-term recovery: a complex process which must take into account not only the fallout from the disaster itself, but also the legacy issues that existed prior to the event. For example, an impoverished neighborhood, fraught with debt, is hit by a natural calamity. During the recovery effort, rubble is cleared and water is provided, leaving participating organizations feeling proud of their contribution.

However, it doesn’t end there. Individuals in the neighborhood still do not know how to be responsible homeowners. Poverty remains a threatening issue and economic stability is questionable. Individuals carry enormous debt. What was ultimately gained from the relief efforts then?

Instead, Jonker offered that “we must focus on ‘people’ recovery as much as on infrastructural and practical recovery.” According to Jonker, recovery is a relay race, not an emergency response sprint. Can companies contribute to creating a better quality of life in the area quicker than the typical response allows?

As soon as we talk about long-termism, however, certain obstacles become intrinsically obvious in disaster relief programs. Jonker asserted that a mere 34 percent of the government money allocated for disaster relief and 64 percent of the Salvation Army’s actually gets “out the door.”

  1. It is difficult to discuss long term recovery plans when everyone is in emergency response mode.
  2. There is a longstanding disconnect between nonprofit, business, and government entities that can result in a “zero sum game.”

Despite these difficulties, FedEx and the Salvation Army offer an impressive example of how a partnership can solve important problems by leveraging each organization's core skill sets.

After all, the ultimate goal of corporate and NGO partnerships in long-term disaster relief should be the same: build business and market continuity.