Every time a global disaster strikes, volunteer organizations and fundraising machines kick into high gear. They are able to engage the generosity of Americans to help those in a critical time of need.
Since I founded the Taproot Foundation, we have witnessed 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and earthquakes in Indonesia, Haiti and now Japan. Each time, we had a strong impulse to help but ended up unable to find a strategic opportunity to make a difference in the immediate aftermath.
While pro bono service in medicine and architecture may be immediately put to work for individuals in need, how can you leverage the skills of other professions like marketing and human resources?
The business professions are generally proactive and have infrastructure development resources. As our friend Ric Grefe at AIGA shared on their site, "although we know designers want to help, it may take some time and investigation to realize where our help is most needed."
There are exceptions. Google led a 72-hour hackathon to create the person finder interchange format to help connect tools to find displaced disaster victims. This, however, stands out as a rare example.
In general, pro bono service is better deployed not for disaster relief but instead for disaster prevention or mitigation. These services aren't as immediately gratifying or headline-grabbing, but ultimately can create tremendous impacts.
The biggest opportunity appears to be disaster preparedness.
Very few people around the globe are prepared for the next disaster. Design, technology and marketing professionals are needed to make sure everyone has the tools and knowledge to increase their odds of survival when the next blast or wave strikes.
This goes beyond advertisement campaigns. The results of the national ad campaigns post- 9/11 in America have only had modest success. We need to use our design thinking resources to find more creative and integrated ways to change public behavior.
Additionally, disaster preparedness doesn't only apply to individuals. Organizations are victims as well as the leaders of the response effort when disaster strikes.
Organizations like the Red Cross need increasingly better technology and systems to respond to the growing number of disasters around the globe. They have improved a lot in the last ten years but still don't have the infrastructure that many assume.
Non-governmental organizations and small businesses in high-risk regions are also critical in the aftermath of disaster. They are the often the taken-for-granted backbone of critical life-supporting products and services in communities.
Pro bono resources can help support these organizations to make sure they are in the position to continue to serve the community quickly after the initial shockwaves subside. This can range from pro bono investments in technology infrastructure, to disaster and scenario planning to enable organizations to move forward after the disaster and avoid spinning their wheels trying to figure out which way is up.
For companies and professionals struggling to respond to the tragedy in Japan, consider focusing your energy on the next sadly inevitable disaster. How can you prepare and empower more people and organizations to survive next time?