leveraging

Reality check from Haiti and the power of networks

Do you remember the 1985 story about the $5000 of relief aid that was sent between Mexico and Ethiopia, which was enduring great suffering. Drought and war had ravaged the Ethiopian way of life. I remember thinking that the $5000 was such a pittance given the urgent and widespread needs. However, I realized I had mis-read the article. the financial aid went from Ethiopia TO Mexico to help with the huge earthquake in Mexico City. Then I learned that in 1935, a half a century before, Mexico had sent aid when Italy invaded Ethiopia and they never forgot. Ethiopians who remembered reciprocated, they fulfilled their sense of mutual obligation to their brothers and sisters in Mexico.

We help Haiti now and in the future because we are connected to them. Because we have an obligation  as humankind to help one another. I just hope that our focus on Haiti and the needs there will not fade too soon. 2 weeks into the devastation and our attention spans are already strained.

I was formally introduced to the International Medical Corps(IMC) last week. It was sort of embarrassing because IMC is based here in LA and I really did not know them. They provided a small corporate briefing to raise money and awareness. IMC is a very impressive organization that provides medical aid as their name implies. They were on the ground in Haiti 22 hours after the earthquake was reported. In fact they are most often first in where medical assistance is required.  By the way they are the ones who helped save Monley the 5 year old who was pulled from the rubble and is now doing fine. In brief here's what separates IMC from others:

  1. IMC engages the local population to train and sustain their efforts. 96% of their team members are from the local country.
  2. IMC stays with the hard work of getting through the crisis and then moves into the necessary transition to public health and rebuilding. IMC is among the few humanitarian agencies still in Darfur and Iraq for example.
  3. IMC spends 92% of its gifts on their programs! Amazingly efficient.

But IMC leverages their donations by serving as a hub of a powerful and experienced network of resources. They use the power of multiplication to amplify their impact. They match every dollar with a minimum of 20x in aid and support. In fact I was told that it is now closer to 59 to 1! But it is their philosophy to not be a foreign aid team that parachutes in and leaves that impresses me most. They train locals to grow their reach from thousands to millions and leave a legacy of a self-reliant infrastructure.

The power of networks are known to all of us. And if they endure because they are self sustaining then the ripple effect really happens. Networks that are not dependent on one member or one resource are powerful and replicable. IMC responds by engaging its growing worldwide network that now spans 50 countries.

Nancy Aossey has headed IMC for the last 25 years. Like all great leaders she is brimming with energy and passion for her work. She is charismatic but not flashy. She is very much like IMC -- substantial. More about effectiveness than ego. Probably why their brand is not a household name. Nevertheless they continue to do their magic where they are needed.

After learning about them my family decided to give them most of our 2010 charitable contributions. Please consider helping them too. 

Our lives are truly changed by the people we meet. If we spend a little time understanding who they are, why they do what they do, our own trajectories and paths are altered. We glean little bits of sanity and rationality, and comfort from these encounters. And sometimes these conversations open our brains to new ideas and thoughts.  It shows us the power of the human spirit. It redefines us. We get mentored in these moments of enlightenment and reconsider who we are and where we are going. Learning about IMC had that impact on me.

Yeah I am a bit of a pushover, my heart and maybe my own guilt lead me too often. But I think these moments are after shock reality checks. They are the speed bumps that get us to decelerate a bit and consider what we are doing to make a difference. We could all quit our jobs and join IMC. Not suggesting that. But we need to learn from IMC's wonderful model.Reality checks

We all volunteer, donate, and empathize--that is the baseline of humanity. We do that because we are upright and we have hearts. But how do we leverage the good we do? How do we use our talents and networks to multiply that good? As I am fond of saying, even the lone ranger did not ride alone.  Never be discouraged by "I am just one person". The power of networks, of working with others is empowering and powerful. Re-committing ourselves to our own passions and engaging our networks in that work has to be a priority. And one person can make more of a difference.

So give money and or time to Haiti. It will make a difference and make you feel good. But use this time to consider the IMC model of leveraging goodwill through your network. Think about how we make a bigger impact or change. And like Mexico and Ethiopia, we will also build stronger bonds to help one another now and in the future.

Thanks for reading. John