Where is the Strategy?

Several days ago I viewed the documentary Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?, a film that does not judge charity work but merely asks questions about the on the ground results of the work.

Although Haiti is the backdrop for the film, the issue spreads to nearly all disasters for which individuals have donated funds. One of the things that struck me, someone who has worked in the non-profit field for many years, is that these organizations have no strategy. There is no methodology for how or when they will achieve their goal of creating safe & livable conditions for those affected by disaster.

None of the organizations questioned by reporter Michele Mitchell had an exit strategy. One can also infer from the interviews that no one had any real strategy with how to handle the over $1 billion given in total to charities to bring relief to the people of Haiti. It seems as though there was no plan – as if in their rush to stop the bleeding, these organizations merely slapped on bandage without bothering to see if it was clean or even large enough for the wound.

Some of that $1 billion was used to provide water to the people of Haiti and many organizations are touting this as a victory. But this victory was short-lived. Without a clear strategy of how to maintain clean water, the relief turned to tragedy in a matter of months. In October 2010 a Cholera epidemic broke out in Haiti killing over 5,330 people.

Lack of strategy is something I have witnessed again and again in non-profits. This is not do to greed, as many cynics might assume, rather it is do to inexperience and a rush to do good work. But solid charity work requires long lasting stability. It requires a vision and a structured path to reach that vision. Without those two things organizations like the Red Cross will continue to hemorrhage money and people will continue to suffer in the wake of that hemorrhage.

A donation come with an expectation – the expectation that those on the receiving end of the funds understand how to bring tangible relief to those in need. In the case of large scale disasters, we expect that organizations will know to build latrines and create water sources so that there is no danger of cross contamination. We hope that these organizations will have a strategy of empowering the people they serve with the knowledge and the tools to maintain and build upon the relief efforts.

Unfortunately, stories of empowerment and strategic relief are all too few.

Haiti: Where Did the Money Go? is airing on PBS stations around the country. Check your local listings and visit Film at Eleven or follow on Twitter for more information.
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