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Disaster Relief: Why Corporations Need to Give More Than Cash

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The earthquake in Haiti has sparked a remarkable global outpouring of generosity. But the relief effort's success depends on more than donations of cash and goods; it hinges on the consistent and efficient distribution and management of food, medicine, shelter and other life-saving supplies.

Relief agencies, the United Nations, the military and local organizations have put together a basic supply chain to deliver materials to newly established food distribution stations and camps. But their resources are stretched thin as the need for help is so great, and the nation's infrastructure is so broken. As the global community continues to respond to Haiti and prepare for potential future disasters, it's critical for the private sector to step up to the plate in ways that far exceed financial donations. There's a compelling need for corporations to match their dollars with expertise and skilled volunteers to help save lives and rebuild communities after disaster strikes.

Companies bring a lot to the table in terms of management expertise, technology, financial acumen and other business skills. At UPS, we apply the same supply chain management skills we use for multinationals every day to help NGOs establish efficient relief operations. In the early days of a catastrophe, NGOs must activate a global supply chain within hours. Needs must be assessed, goods must be located, collected and shipped from around the world. Tents must be built, and feeding stations must be assembled and manned.

But as we've all seen on television, the journey of donated goods to earthquake victims is a circuitous one -- fraught with bottlenecks, delays, paperwork, theft and chronic inefficiency. Piles of supplies (both wanted and unwanted) sit in warehouses and on airport tarmacs, waiting for people to pick them up or transport them those last few miles to the people of Haiti.

Over the last few years, UPS has been working to bring our logistics expertise to bear in the wake of a disaster. We have assigned logistics experts to study the disaster relief supply chain and have sent UPSers to Indonesia, Chad, Honduras, Haiti, Thailand and China. It's part of our $9 million pledge to help relief organizations respond better to global emergencies. That pledge - which we just boosted by another $1 million specifically for Haiti relief - also includes in-kind transportation and support for the American Red Cross, CARE, UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

But beyond dollars and expertise, a company's best contribution to a relief effort can be the human spirit of its people. For us, volunteers like UPSer Craig Arnold embody this spirit. Craig was volunteering on the ground in Haiti soon after the quake hit, using his logistics knowledge to establish food distribution centers for the Salvation Army, which currently serves more than 10,000 people. He and others like him have made a meaningful difference by providing on-the-ground help during actual disasters.

So before the next disaster strikes, companies should consider matching financial contributions with their business expertise and the skills and passions of their people. The world will thank them.