3 comments on “Tornado #SWEDOW

  1. Great to see an example of SWEDOW in a developed world context. I like to think that it might prompt a few less T-shirts for Africa in the future.

    One other confounding issue with SWEDOW is that some not for profits deliberately encourage GIK (even though some within the organisation may know that it won’t be particularly useful to the communities with whom they work) because they can record the value of the donated goods as income in their financial accounts, thereby increasing their ratio of income to administration costs. So while donors remain keen to donate cash to the charity with the lowest percentage of admin costs and Boards are keen to raise as much as possible, this will create a perverse incentive to promote the donation of GIK.

    Perhaps next time there is a humanitarian disaster, I’ll organise a clothes swap with a coin donation entry. That way I can raise money to donate and keep the supply chains free for more urgent supplies.

  2. I think you should not call it a “debate” (your first line) because there is no debate: just a public education problem. As such, it’s just the tip of an iceberg. The iceberg is that most members of the public—though they donate to aid and development both directly and through taxes—have no idea how it works today. The way they think it works might indeed be how it worked in the 19th or early 20th C.

    How can we correct this?

    Your story of the people who arrive three trucks reminds me of another problem, written about here:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/05/rescuers_turning_into_victims_lessons_from_first_responders_on_saving_people.html
    In some kinds of catastrophe, more first responders are killed than actual victims.

    Often, these amateur “first responders” end up needing care and attention better directed to the actual victims. Perhaps we need for disasters, advice similar to the advice given by some fire departments:

    In case of disaster:
    1. Get out
    2. Call for professional assistance
    3. Once out, STAY OUT.

  3. Hey dude, always great to read your thoughts, and I’ll echo all of your sentiments, as someone actually in charge of accepting/rejecting/moving non-cash resources around the world in a development context, and who is part of the dam wall trying to hold back the tide of unauthorised ’emergency stock’ (even by NGOs) during disaster responses.

    A point that I would add to the conversation that you only touched on peripherally: the use of ongoing, long-term corporate GIK donors to replenish pre-positioned stock in existing disaster response warehouses may actually be one effective way of reducing long-term procurement costs for first-response items (hygiene kits etc.). This also removes the problem of slow responsiveness, as GIK just becomes another regular resource stream into pre-positioned warehouses on a schedule divorced from immediate need, ready to be deployed from the warehouse when necessary. (It does raise several other logistical sticking points such as ensuring Sphere-standard-compliant items, managing stock expiry, ensuring the cost/benefit ratio actually makes sense etc. but these are largely process and donor management issues rather than development ones.)

    Basically, GIK can only work if it is just another reliable procurement stream to obtain predetermined high-need items, ie. need driven, not donor driven. There ARE sweet spots where the mutual interests of the two coincide, which can lead to sustainable, long-term partnerships that are beneficial for both NGOs (reducing overheads etc.) and donors (smoother inventory management, improved staff/customer engagement), but these partnerships need to be set up and managed by sophisticated donor engagement professionals who also understand the development industry implicitly, a rare combination even in the NGO landscape.

    This, of course, reinforces your (and David’s) point that non-cash resourcing — like everything else in disaster responses (and really in development in general), and like the analogy David makes to fire departments — is actually a highly technical activity that should be carried out by trained and experienced professionals, and simply cannot be an ad-hoc amateur exercise carried out in the name of good intentions.

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