Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Listening to Tsunami Survivors

Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

Listening to Tsunami Survivors

Article excerpt

Treating aid recipients like valued customers gives insights into disaster relief

How much good did all those donations to tsunami relief actually do? To answer this question, the Fritz Institute, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, broke the mold for international aid studies and asked a rarely heard group: the aid recipients themselves. The institute released a report of its findings last December.

"In all these years of disaster management, there never has been a real understanding of the perceptions of the customers of the aid," says Anisya Thomas, the Fritz Institute's managing director and a co-author of the report.

In keeping with the institute's mission, which is to apply private industry methods to humanitarian aid, researchers approached tsunami survivors like customers and asked them how satisfied they were with the goods and services they received. Over the course of 10 months, trained interviewers spoke with 3,700 people in scores of Indian, Sri Lankan, and Indonesian villages.

Their main findings, which may not be a surprise to frontline aid workers, include:

* Many donations were useless. Western clothing (used business suits, high-heeled shoes, etc.) is inappropriate in tropical, rural settings, as are bags of rice without pots and potable water to cook it in. Other dubious tsunami donations, according to Thomas, were fiberglass motorboats, which local fishermen are unable to maintain.

* Even in the traditional cultures affected by the tsunami, survivors appreciated the psychotherapy they received and wanted more of it. …

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