I was last in New Orleans in 1998 – long before Katrina devastated the city and from a personal perspective, when my two teenage daughters were still toddlers. This time, I was in town earlier this month to participate in a meeting of the Global Corporate Volunteer Council.
Nearly 20 managers responsible for their companies’ global volunteering programmes discussed how they could deliver more impact on the social issues they care about, and to share experience on engaging their employees around disaster preparedness and response.
As always with this particular network, the group shared fulsomely and openly around what works – and more importantly – the challenges they face when delivering their programmes.
In 2005, taking lessons from company approaches to the Boxing Day Tsunami, IBLF published a short report on Employee Engagement and Disaster Response. We proposed a ‘RESPONSE’ Framework that built on companies’ experience of deploying the skills and passion of their employees to make a real difference to people in communities that needed their help.
Have things changed since then? Based on the companies I spoke to at the council meeting, I would say yes, things have moved on. Here are three key observations:
1. Each of the companies seem to have a defined strategy, process and approach to disasters. No two companies are doing things the same way, but all are aligning activity to core business imperatives, whether it is C&A in Brazil forming local committees and working with local authorities to ensure that their support will meet the most urgent needs or UPS working with The Red Cross, CARE, UNICEF and others to provide logistics support to deliver the right items to the right place at the right time.
2. Many companies are partnering with The Red Cross. The head of the Louisiana Red Cross spoke of how they partnered with business, citing the example of their Ready When the Time Comes programme where employees are trained on anything from CPR, first aid and injury prevention to community disaster preparedness education. Employees are then put on a register so that they can be deployed to support Red Cross staff in the field after a disaster, and many companies provide time off for this purpose.
3. Unsolicited help or the provision of unsolicited gifts in-kind (despite being very well intentioned) don’t meet the needs of relief agencies. Companies are now finding ways to channel funds and support from employees in ways that add value to their existing social investment initiatives. For some this means focusing on disaster preparedness, others concentrate on relief or reconstruction.