Critical Lessons in

Disaster and Conflict Relief

As 2013 drew to a close, the world witnessed humanitarian emergencies in Syria and the Philippines—two of the largest crises since the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004.

When these types of disasters strike, there is a compelling emotional response to urgently provide for the most vulnerable, and one of our clients wanted to support both emergency response efforts.

With many actors reacting in the aftermath of these situations, and chaos and complicated coordination in the region a norm, the design and delivery of a relief effort is equally as important as the amount of assistance given.

Through our years of experience in disaster relief, we have learned some critical lessons to ensure money is effectively deployed and reaches those most devastated.

Context is crucial to prioritize initiatives.

Before deciding how best to respond to an international crisis, we consult our network of nonprofit partners in the region, gaining crucial understanding and assessment of the current situation, biggest challenges, and who is doing what. This helps us to find the opportunity gap. The realities on the ground are not always what is portrayed in the media, so it is crucial to understand how things work to determine immediate priorities and focus on the most effective use of clients’ funding.

Support and facilitate affected local organizations into project design priorities.

After emergencies occur, we partner with local organizations that we have previously worked with that have passed our rigorous due diligence screening and demonstrated a successful track record. The benefit of working with local, community-based organizations is that they have established coordinating mechanisms, which means they are often the quickest and most effective responders to disasters. They deeply understand their own context, and know who lives (or lived) where, and the best ways to reach the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. Local organizations also have existing relationships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies, which is fundamental to avoiding duplicated efforts and achieving effective coordination.

Focus on the neglected areas of a disaster response.

We seek out local organizations that will identify and prioritize relief activities for those not already being supported and in the hardest-to-reach areas. In most cases, this means prioritizing funding to target girls, women, children, and the elderly from protection of abuses such as violence, crime, sexual exploitation, and trafficking.

Involving affected communities into their own relief and recovery activities increases sustainability.

We have found that by empowering affected local people in disasters to articulate their needs and be trained as part of the relief program, they provide continuity and sustainability for ongoing recovery efforts.

Flexible project management and evaluation.

During relief efforts, priorities continue to change with regional instability and shifting circumstances. We have identified ways of flexibly managing and adapting to priority changes and still effectively reporting results to clients. It has been fundamental to regularly communicate and customize agreed outcomes, performance indicators and reporting requirements to ensure the aligned expectations of all stakeholders, especially those of our clients.

The advantages of a private sector model.

Geneva Global’s private sector business model has been an advantage for mobilizing and sending funds to those most in need within days of an emergency. Unlike most development NGOs, with our client’s approval, we are able to quickly and autonomously design and implement a relief initiative with local partners, often before larger multi-lateral actors are able to arrive.

In the case of our client’s donation to the Philippines and the Lebanon/Syrian crises, we were able to fund local organizations in a matter of days. Both life-saving initiatives supported change-agents leading innovative, locally-designed and coordinated projects involving those affected in the region. The initiatives mobilized local networks to provide critical life-saving supplies to the most vulnerable women, children and elderly, as well as providing emergency housing kits for communities to be trained to rebuild homes together.

Our approach of identifying local organizations and identifying critical gaps means that our clients not only get to provide relief quickly, but also know that they are supporting the neediest, and often most overlooked, people and situations.