THE BLOG
03/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Haiti Inspires New Givers -- Will Those in Philanthropy's "Long Tail" Have Long Memories?

Americans have been donating in record numbers through new means -- from phone texting to social media links -- providing relief to victims of Haiti's earthquake. The outpouring of support has been impressive -- with the combination of on-line giving, the response to George Clooney's global telethon (including iTunes sales) and the Council on Foundations' list of its members' grants.

Ultimately, a similar mobilization of dollars and talent, will promote Haiti's recovery. This is a country that has suffered from generations of mismanagement, endemic poverty, political instability, a weak civil society and autocratic governance. Haiti's citizens deserve a brighter future. Perhaps new donors, inspired by this tragedy, will not only represent the "long tail" of philanthropy's graph, but will remember this tragedy and help Haiti in the future.

Our own country's stance toward the small nation, which in 1804 produced the world's first successful slave rebellion, has been wary and ineffectual, according to Mark Danner in a January 21 op-ed in The New York Times. A very different future for Haiti requires not only strategic philanthropy, but also sound U.S. policy. This includes the opening of U.S. markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, and aid that translates into jobs for the Haitian people rather than patronage for its government.

Private philanthropy can complement good policy if the initial outpouring of support is matched by a long-term commitment to sustainable development, a need most recently identified by Haiti's Prime Minister. But re-imagining Haiti is more easily said than done. The U.S. is engaged in state-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each offers it's own opportunities for public-private partnerships. And each offers it's own best practices, and discouraging lessons. Philanthropists point to remarkable and courageous social entrepreneurs, especially women, like Afghanistan's Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, who secretly taught girls throughout the Taliban's rule. But the enterprise of poppy growing continues to outpace schooling young girls. Corruption not only precedes crises, it often follows it as well.

How to pivot from immediate disaster relief to a long-term plan will be on the minds of "new philanthropists" as they gather for their ninth annual Global Philanthropy Forum on April 19-21 in Silicon Valley. As Secretary of State Clinton said, they all aim for a Haiti that comes back "stronger and better" than before. This year's focus on global health, food security, access to safe drinking water, and sanitation seems especially apt in the wake of the earthquake. Each represents a particular need in Haiti. The philanthropists' focus will likely make them more sympathetic in the short-term with the argument made in a post to the University of Pennsylvania's Center for High Impact Philanthropy blog, which called for support of organizations offering impact rather than low overhead as their metric for success. For the mean time, recommendations in Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors' Haiti Emergency Update, stress the importance for the later stages of disaster recovery. The Inter-American Development Bank's President, Luis Alberto Moreno, will surely make the case for investing in Haiti's water and sanitation infrastructure, education system, housing and building stock, access to healthcare and other needs identified by the bank over the years. Former High Commissioner of Human Rights, Louise Arbour, will speak to the linkages between civil conflict and state failure. Peter Gleick, will shed light on the role of water management or mismanagement. Actor Jim Carrey, will speak about breakthroughs in sustainable agriculture. David Aylward, of mHealth Alliance, will speak on new ways to deliver heath care where infrastructure is lacking. And former Ghanaian President, John Kufuor, will speak of the responsibility of neighbors and regional organizations to strengthen societies before crises occur, enabling societies to better prepare for or rebound from disasters.

As they consider the opportunities available to them, the gathering's new philanthropists and political officers will consider ways to partner with more recent entrants into the world of giving -- the on-line donors, cell phone texters, twitter followers, iTunes purchasers -- who are now part of the world of philanthropy. If those who represent the long tail of the giving graph also remember the trajedy in Haiti and other countries, similar events might not occur. Instead, impoverished countries, can be among societies that have the resilience to absorb and overcome tragic events.