September 1, 2017; New York Times
Last Thursday, the New York Times ran an editorial suggesting that the Red Cross should no longer be everyone’s default charity during disasters like the recent hurricane and subsequent flooding in Texas. What might an alternative look like? Perhaps a high-tech billionaire couple has provided a model for providing support for those local groups that are on the front line and for support that extends beyond the first shock of the event.
Michael and Susan Dell have made the largest contribution yet to Harvey Relief efforts, pledging $36 million overall. (The Dells are Texas natives; they said the street that Michael grew up on was underwater.) The announcement presaged the establishment of a new fund that will be operated under the auspices of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation together with the One Star Foundation. The Rebuild Texas Fund will be made available not just to immediate relief efforts, but also to the long rebuilding process ahead.
The Dells’ intent is to attract other gifts and grow the fund to $100 million through providing matches. This sum may not seem like much in the face of the projected costs, which are reckoned in the hundreds of billions, but the fact that the money will be administered locally will mean a great deal. Local groups participating in the recovery process often get repaid late—if at all—for expenses incurred in providing food, shelter, and other necessaries. Though it depends on its partnerships with these local groups, the Red Cross pays its own costs first.
We could see this model of corporate giving being replicated. It’s a well-seeded mechanism to support area groups during such events and in their aftermath. Of course, we have seen such funds pop up before, but perhaps they should become a bigger and more high profile part of the regular disaster response landscape.—Ruth McCambridge