From the ground: Accountability Lab’s Nepal earthquake relief efforts

Mobile Helpdesk volunteer assisting Nepali man after the earthquake

For earthquake relief in Nepal, connection is key. Displaced Nepali citizens found themselves unable to connect with organizations to provide essential needs, like food, water, and medical aid. Accountability Lab is dedicated to making this connection possible.

At GlobalGiving, we were fortunate enough to get in contact with Narayan Adhikari, the representative for Accountability Lab: South Asia, and gather a bit of look into what is happening on the ground in Nepal. Through their Mobile Citizen Helpdesk project, Narayan and Accountability Lab have been able to visit over 65 communities and directly solve over 100 problems for citizens. Last month, we conducted this interview with Narayan over email.

GlobalGiving (GG): Tell us about the situation where you are right now.

Narayan Adhikari (NA): I am in Nepal now, working with 32 Citizen Helpdesk volunteers. Despite huge tragedy, the helpdesk volunteers have been working around the clock to visit places where people have sheltered, hospitalized and displaced. I am also working with other Citizen Helpdesk partners, the government of Nepal, and the donor community to consolidate everyone’s efforts to provide assistance to the people on the ground.

GG: What is the most urgent need facing survivors?

NA: Not enough tents for shelter, rescue operation are predominantly limited to urban areas and their peripheries, while many families from remote district have been left out from receiving the support they need. Food supplies are very limited in many remote villages. The aid agencies are facing huge challenges to coordinate with one another and conduct needs assessment for proper and fair distribution of relief.

People finding the resources they need to survive

GG: What kinds of assistance are you providing to survivors? 

NA: We are visiting the affected areas with the help of our volunteers, collecting information from direct interaction with victims, listening to their problems, helping them obtain appropriate information, and connecting them with relief organizations and the government. We are also working with the government to assess their data received from citizens through the mobile hotline 1234, where more than 25,000 voice calls have been received directly from citizens.

GG: What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing in delivering aid?

NA: One of the biggest challenges is getting the right information about the disaster. The media reports and government data are frequently not available. Other key challenges in the aid delivery are: lack of coordination among relief organization and government; unequal and unfair distribution of relief packages; difficulty reaching the most affected areas in remote districts. We are working to help alleviate these challenges as much as possible. Our biggest challenges is quickly raising the funds needed to roll this project out as far as possible.

GG: What do you believe the long-term recovery needs will be?

NA: More mobile helpdesks are needed to assess needs and gather feedback from the local people. The information should be shared with government and aid agencies, and these stakeholders should manage relief efforts with strong and efficient routes to reach affected households and individuals.

The current mechanism of budget allocation and disbursement is a very slow, lengthy, highly corrupt, and overly political process, and it is not going to solve the problem at all as long as we are not able to create short-cuts for the current disbursement mechanism (i.e. from center to household without any intermediately).

Individual households need to be provided with enough support with technical skills, proper materials and labor to sustainably re-build their homes. There has to be citizen oversight to monitor relief and make sure it is utilized in effective ways.

Volunteers creating strategy for weeks ahead.

GG: How long do you expect to be working on relief and recovery efforts?

NA: At least 2 years. Even as we transition back to our other accountability programs, earthquake relief and the accountability of the aid system will continue to be a key issue and component that they cover.

GG: How does the situation compare to other disasters you’ve responded to in the past?

NA: We have not experienced anything like this before in Nepal. The other key country that Accountability Lab works in is Liberia—which just faced the deadly Ebola crisis last year. That it was a very different sort of crisis, and our response there focused more on creative awareness campaigns. However, in both situations we had to mobilize quickly, find ways for citizens to get involved in improving their community, and try to build trust between citizens and their government. Both have affected all aspects of the country and will have long-term repercussions.

GG: From your perspective, are relief efforts well-coordinated between the various NGOs and government responders? 

NA: Not really, and that is part of the reason why we’ve set up the Mobile Citizen Helpdesks. With better coordination between NGOs and government, the people would can get better quality support, sooner.

GG: What about the situation currently in Nepal do you think most people may be unaware of?

NA: People are traumatized and are full of fear. Many people, especially from affected communities, do not have any idea what to do and have not been able to get reliable information and direct channels to raise their voices.

Some of Accountability Lab's enthusiastic volunteer

GG: What are the advantages that a local NGO has over an international NGO? vice versa?

NA: Local NGOs are more connected with the locals and understand the situation better than INGOs. Thus they have more human capital and contextual understanding, while INGOs typically have more financial resources.

GG: What about Nepal specifically makes responding to this earthquake a unique challenge?

NA: Nepal hasn’t had local elections in 18 years so there is very little accountability in the local government, which has an important role to play in distributing aid. There is systemic corruption and a highly inefficient bureaucracy in the government that has delayed Constitution making for years, and is in many responding similarly to the disaster. Furthermore, given Nepal’s poor economy, a huge number of Nepalis work abroad, thus leaving a gap in an important work force. On the other hand, Nepal has a very active youth and civil society population that have risen to the challenge in many ways.


How Can You Help?

The relief effort in Nepal is far from over. Narayan and the Accountability Lab team are continuing to work tirelessly to provide more connection and information to the citizens of Nepal.  With the continued kindness and generosity of the GlobalGiving community, you can help make the Mobile Citizen Helpdesk network even stronger.

You can donate to Accountability Lab here on GlobalGiving.

Guest Post: Why You Should Help the Nepalis, and How to Start

This post was written by Chris Wolz, GlobalGiving Board Member, and President/CEO Forum One.

When I heard Saturday morning, April 25, 2015, that there had been an earthquake in Nepal, I let out a gasp and uttered to myself “oh, no.” Oh no. Like many who have lived and worked in Nepal, I love the Nepali people and their beautiful, colorful, chaotic, friendly country. I also know that Kathmandu city is jammed full of 1+ million people, and narrow lanes lined with many shoddily built, and brittle, brick buildings. And I’ve walked through many villages in the surrounding hills, past the humble stone and mud walled homes of farm families, homes that probably won’t withstand an earthquake.

Bhajogun Village Water Committee + C Wolz 1984

Chris with the Bhajogun Village Water Committee in 1984

Nepal is a place close to our family. My wife Eugenie and I both worked there for four years right out of college. I worked for the Peace Corps and UNICEF and the Nepali Government building drinking water systems in the rural hills near Ilam, and Eugenie was nearby with the Dutch Development Agency (SNV) on a UNICEF women’s microcredit program. We eventually met, as Eugenie’s Nepali village friends had long urged (!), and, long story short, we started our adventure together as a couple and family.

While in Nepal for four years, we lived and worked side by side with Nepalis every day. We came to know them as almost universally friendly, helpful, and kind, in ways we had not seen, then, or since, in the US or Europe. Many of them face daily challenges and struggles that few of us have to experience, but do it while living lives full of joy, laughter, music, and wonder. They will invite you in to be their guest for the best lunch they can muster, and the chance to quiz you about your family and life back home — and laugh in wonder in hearing that a milk cow back home gives about eight gallons (!!) a day. I’m not the first to say this, but it’s really true that Nepal is one of the most special places on this planet, partly because of the mountains, but mostly because of the wonderful Nepali people.

Unfortunately, Nepal is also a country that has long had major challenges in economic growth, being an isolated landlocked country with stupendous hills and mountains. In addition, they’ve had domestic political strife and dysfunction for about the past 20 years. And so Nepal’s support systems, social services, health care, housing, power infrastructure, water and sanitation systems are strained and vulnerable in the best of times.

This earthquake has been long anticipated, and long dreaded. The area affected around Kathmandu and towards Pokhara is huge, and I expect that it will end up affecting many hundreds of thousands of people, and likely for years. In Kathmandu they will need to rebuild many buildings, water and sewer systems, schools, and more. And in the hills, they will need to rebuild homes and whole village economies.

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Children waiting patiently for the Wolz family at a school that Eugenie helped to fund 25 years before. 2009.

Nepal is about as far away from the US, and US minds, as you can get — some 10 time zones away and another world, culturally. I know it’s hard for people to relate to a disaster that is so distant and in such a foreign place. But, think of Nepal as full of warm people who would help you out in a pinch if they could, and thank you profusely for any help you could give them. (This kids in this picture had made marigold garlands that they lined up to give to Eugenie and our family in a show of gratitude for the school.)

And so, to help these people who are suffering and have limited support systems, and also, for the betterment of global humanity, we should do as much as we can to help the Nepalis rebuild now and in the coming years. I’d urge you to think about how much you typically give to support a humanitarian crisis like this, and then think further about whether you could double it. Or even add a zero. Good karma.

This crisis will continue for far longer than it is in the headlines of our papers here. Villagers out in places like Gorkha typically keep their food stocks, rice and lentils for 12 months, stored in bins in their homes, and which may now be under a pile of rubble. The same with any cash or gold they might have. They will not have much to eat nor much to rebuild from. And in villages and Kathmandu, the availability of clean water, and human waste sanitation, are always a challenge; now, those systems are broken, the monsoon is approaching in about a month, and thus cholera outbreaks a heightened risk.

GlobalGiving HomepageI’ve been on the Board of GlobalGiving for four years, and have seen how effective it is in supporting the work of charities in such a disaster. GlobalGiving already has a network of several dozen project partners on the ground in Nepal, working on various projects in education, health care, economic development. And in a disaster like this these groups will also be first to act to help in rescue and rebuilding. Thank you for giving what you can. I know that all donations to this GlobalGiving fund will bring a lot of value to the Nepali people.

Thanks, and Jai Nepal!

 

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How GlobalGiving Helps Nonprofits Become More Effective

This is our mission at GlobalGiving: catalyzing a global marketplace for money, information, and ideas.

In 2002 we began to build an online funding bridge between passionate individual donors—people whose gifts are often seen as too small to be meaningful—and smaller organizations whose impact has been all too easy to ignore because of their size or remoteness of their work.

Today that funding bridge has turned into a global marketplace where anyone in the world can support projects and organizations that they otherwise would never have known.

But democratizing fundraising was only the beginning.

Soon after we started GlobalGiving, we began providing feedback tools. The very same platform that revolutionized access to crowdfunding has also made it possible for us to collect and share information with our nonprofit partners. We soon found we could offer nonprofits the kind of feedback tools that would dramatically improve the quality of their fundraising.

For example, every nonprofit on GlobalGiving has a personalized dashboard that they see when they log in to the website. From the dashboard they can access details about their project page and fundraising progress:

 

We saw that our partners were hungry for this type of feedback, and they were eager to respond rapidly to new information if it helped them improve their work. Today, more than 2,000 of our nonprofit partners use our feedback tools to improve their fundraising.

The next step: introducing incentives

In 2011 we introduced the Partner Rewards system. Similar to an airline’s frequent flyer program, we give our nonprofit partners points for increasing their engagement with our platform and our feedback tools. Higher Rewards status (partner, leader, and superstar) translates to more visibility on the site (like being featured on our homepage, or our social media), and makes us more likely to refer an organization to our corporate partners. That extra visibility translates to more donations for projects.

In the same way that you might be motivated to purchase your next ticket from United because you’re only 1,000 miles away from Gold Status, we found that Partner Rewards levels motivated nonprofit partners to write that extra project update, or to rally a little harder for a campaign, because it would take them to the next level, ultimately driving more funds to their project.  

Our Partner Rewards Bonus Days are a great example of this. In June 2012 we introduced our first Partner Rewards Bonus Day where we offered different matching percentages for different rewards levels (donations to Partners were matched at 30%, Leaders at 40%, Superstars at 50%). One way for organizations to bump up their status is to submit a project report to fulfil the quarterly requirement. We saw a great increase in the number of partners submitting reports that month in order to qualify for the higher statuses. Clearly, the Partner Rewards System was a compelling incentive to drive behavior.

The cycle of progress: Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat.

As we began to study the links between feedback, learning, incentives and effectiveness, it became clear that our nonprofit partners informally follow the kind of Listen, Act, Learn and Repeat behavior that defines the most successful entrepreneurial businesses. Which made us realize we can do even more to help our partners:

Cycle of Progress

  • Listen: we can help nonprofits access feedback from the people they serve, share best practices, and discover new ways to improve performance.
  • Act: we can provide training and one-to-one consulting to help each partner experiment and try new ways of working.
  • Learn: as they try new ideas we can offer them feedback on how well it is working for the people and causes they serve.
  • Repeat: once they achieve the results they are hoping for, we can help them integrate the new way of working into their operations, so the improvement is sustainable.

While many of our nonprofit partners join GlobalGiving for the access to financial resources, they stay and thrive because we provide something that is just as vital to their mission: access to knowledge. We can use our web platform and powerful incentives (money!) to drive learning, and ultimately, higher performance.

That’s why we’ve created the Effectiveness Dashboard, a way to track the listening, acting, learning, and repeating that our nonprofits engage in both on and off the GlobalGiving platform.  We give our partner organizations points for listening to their stakeholders, testing out new ideas, learning from the results of their experiments, and for integrating learning into their daily work:EffectivenessDashboard

This dashboard is in MVP (minimum viable product) stage of the build-measure-learn product development cycle. Initially the majority of the opportunities to earn points  have focused on fundraising effectiveness, but in 2014 we integrated several external feedback tools into the dashboard, allowing our partners to earn points for listening, acting, learning, and repeating that cycle on the ground.

In 2015 we’re focused on integrating the elements of the Effectiveness Dashboard into our main Partner Rewards ranking and search algorithms on GlobalGiving. Our partners are motivated to improve their Partner Rewards status, because it translates to more funding for their work. We believe that it will also translate to higher performance on the ground that is informed by feedback and data about what works in their communities.

This is how the Effectiveness Dashboard is a powerful tool to help us align fundraising with performance, by  channeling more funds to the nonprofits that demonstrate the greatest commitment to improvement, and have the highest potential to do the most good.

A Sneak Peek at GlobalGiving’s Brand Refresh

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Very exciting things are happening at GlobalGiving! Over the last several months, we have been working behind the scenes to refresh our brand and we are finally ready to share it with the world. Our main goal of this change is to make our outward appearance more accurately reflect who we are on the inside: hopeful, curious, enthusiastic, substantive, and human. We love the work that we do, and we want the world to feel the same. The launch of this new, fresh brand is symbolic of the many exciting changes being made this year at GlobalGiving and helps visualize the tremendous growth we are going through. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming months!

A New Year to Build On

Happy New Year, GlobalGivers!  The last couple of months of 2014 passed in a flash of donation gift cards and year-end giving, and 2015 is off to an inspiring start.  As I have been reflecting on 2014’s passing and thinking about what is to come in 2015, I have been focused on the ways in which 2015’s accomplishments will rely upon and build upon all the hard work and generosity that took place in 2014.ProjectPhoto

A timely example of this compounding effect is the work GlobalGiving and the VMware Foundation have done together over the last few years.  In alignment with GlobalGiving’s goal to inform our nonprofit and donor communities so they can make more mindful choices and contributions, the VMware Foundation’s philosophy of Citizen Philanthropy focuses on individuals’ choices, contributions, and unique passions adding up to make an even more profound and meaningful collective impact than any one might on its own.

As the axiom goes, “every waterfall begins with a drop of water,” and VMware’s programs prove just that.  In 2011, the VMware Foundation and GlobalGiving began working together to provide milestone awards (in the form of GlobalGiving e-cards) to its new hires and employees reaching their one-year anniversaries at VMware.  The first batch of cards went to a mere trickle of 100 employees.  But over the years, GlobalGiving has sent more than 24,500 service awards to VMware employees.

Adding to the swell of support, the VMware user community helped the VMware Foundation choose which of 55 causes would receive $500,000 of funding in 2014 through the VMworld conferences in San Francisco and Barcelona in 2014. Each participant allowed giving to take flight by throwing a personally-designed paper airplane down a field, with different landing areas accounting for different donation amounts towards the participants’ causes of choice.  As the competition intensified and momentum built, each participant helped bolster the group’s collective efforts to a level none could have reached on her/his own.

The biggest waLandingPage Screenshotves of support have come during the last two holiday seasons, when each of VMware’s roughly 16,000 employees received a GlobalGiving “gift of giving,” similar to milestone awards but larger in size and scope.  Through these gifts of giving, VMware employees choose where they want to invest the organization’s holiday donation.  Each employee’s $100 gift of giving amassed to more than $2 million in concert.  2014’s gifts of giving alone supported more than three-quarters of the organizations on GlobalGiving.org at the time.  Such widespread support within such a generous contribution is a true testament to VMware’s Citizen Philanthropy in action.

GlobalGiving’s vision is to unleash the potential of people to make positive change happen.  And the waterfall of support over the last few years from VMware people has allowed more than 3,500 programs in 145 countries to continue forward progress in their communities.  As someone who could stand mesmerized by the power of a beautiful waterfall for hours, witnessing this “worldwide waterfall” has helped me start 2015 on an incredibly optimistic note.