One of the grace notes in an otherwise grim close to 2012 was the powerful human urge to help others who were suffering. That beautiful impulse came shining through the darkness. We have a need to respond and not be bystanders. Like a gravitational pull, our humanity seems to demand it.
In New York and New Jersey thousands of volunteers traveled to assist in areas that were hardest hit by the storm. Creative thinkers, local activists, innovators -- individuals, corporations and small businesses -- those with that indescribable urge to DO something thought outside the box came up with solutions to help those in need.
After months of training, when one marathoner, Conley Downing, realized that hundreds of hotel rooms would be left vacant by the eventual cancelation of the New York City Marathon, she quickly organized a popup nonprofit, Race2RecoverNYC.com, that matched up those displaced by Sandy with already paid for hotel rooms. It went viral immediately.
When millions of New Yorkers were left without power and unable to buy batteries for flashlights because stores were closed, Sun Giant, a New York-based solar power startup, initiated a drive to donate solar powered lanterns to New Yorkers without light.
And building on its high-end food truck phenomenon, in the days after Sandy, JetBlue and the New York City Food Truck Association worked to turn the cottage industry into a mobile soup kitchen, distributing some 25,000 meals by 20 trucks throughout the region.
When done in partnership with the local community, these types of social innovation form bonds between organizations and communities. They inspire smart thinking. They simply help. That's why after a disaster, we must first assess the actual needs of the community with the community, and then collaborate to create a solution that meets those needs. And, to have the most impact, we should challenge the way things have been done in the past.
Social innovation can help create smarter, stronger solutions. It can connect first responders with the tools they need to effectively help. It can bridge a community and create an action plan when the Internet goes down. It can help us build better materials, push forward smarter planning and foster an experienced volunteer corps.
Catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy have forced us to think about new ways to address old problems like flooding, power outages and disaster preparedness. While we'll never be able to prevent the kind of potential damage wrought by natural disasters, we have an opportunity to rebuild more than the physical structure in our communities. We can rebuild a person's hope.
As the new year begins, instead of just making a resolution to lose five pounds or to call your mother more often (both fine objectives), make a commitment to think differently. Pledge to look around your community and think about what is needed. Ask your neighbors what they need. And resolve to innovate -- to use your skills, your expertise and your desire to do good to find both new and old solutions to our biggest challenges -- crisis or not.