Large global corporations with enormous wealth, power and resources have the ability to positively (or negatively) impact global change and increasingly they are doing so in the area of disaster relief and assistance. While corporations such as Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and FedEx are providing both direct and indirect disaster relief and assistance other corporations see such efforts as beyond their legal requirements (Johnson, Connolly & Carter, 2011). However pressure from consumers, employees and the community for organisations to demonstrate good corporate citizenship ensures most organisations incorporate corporate social responsibility measures into their businesses. Unfortunately wanting to contribute to disaster relief to make one feel good is not enough as impulsive responses often result in large quantities of unsolicited and inappropriate items being wasted (Thomas & Fitz, 2006). The key to avoiding those issues whilst still allowing the private sector to contribute in a meaningful way is to develop long-term collaborative partnerships between the private sector and relief agencies and to implement disaster ready systems, structures and leaders into organisations.
There appears to be very few genuine attempts to implement disaster management systems in organisations despite the increasing frequency of disasters around the globe. Ridged bureaucratic systems, weak leadership and system breakdowns have been identified as failures in governmental systems and constraints to individuals and organisations during disasters (Johnson et al., 2011). Unfortunately these failures frequently result in mistakes during high stress events, like natural disasters, the results of which mean life or death. Hurricane Katrina, where official requests for aid were lost or put through standard application processes, offers great insight into the constraints placed on individuals during disasters as well as the impact of bureaucratic systems on responders. System breakdowns lead to arguments over roles and authority and often create cumbersome top-down chains-of-command which prevent individuals from taking action and natural talent from rising through the ranks.
Chains-of-command are separate from the increasingly unpopular command-and-control style leaders who are often seen as autocratic, lacking in trust, unmotivational and arrogant. Unfortunately autocratic leaders are still needed especially during a disaster, as weak leaders’ leave organisations and individuals open to indecision and inaction which only feeds their anxieties and insecurities.
Long-term collaborative partnerships between the private sector and relief agencies offer organisations a way to respond to their corporate social responsibilities by positively engaging in communities of interest, the global society and the environment. Increasing support from the private sector for disasters like the Haiti earthquake, South Asian tsunami and Pike River tragedy create an opportunity for organisations to partner with relief agencies in order to maximise their reach and response to crisis/disasters. A good example of partnership is the Emergency Capacity Building Project comprising agencies such as Oxfam-GB, Save the Children-US, World Vision International, Catholic Relief Services, and Mercy Corps coming together with funding from the Gates Foundation and Microsoft Corporation, to improve the speed, quality and effectiveness of humanitarian responses (Janz, Soi and Russell, 2009). Effective collaborative partnerships between corporations and relief agencies create an opportunity for both parties to develop skills and leadership capacity and to develop institutional measurement and accountability processes around a shared vision, trust and results-oriented approaches (Janz, Soi & Russell, 2009). The process around developing such a relationship is also transferable to other areas of an organisations business. Collaborative partnerships such as these also act as beacons to potential consumers, employees and communities as they gravitate towards organisations that are active corporate citizens.
Developing good, strong leaders who know who they are and know their weaknesses, who can ignore standard operating procedures and allow those who can act to act, and those who need to, to surrender their freedom and to sit passively waiting for instructions is also of vital importance (Department of the Army, 2006). Furthermore organisational leaders need to be free to delegate down and to mobilise local people in the work of rescue, relief and rebuilding. A place for command-and-control leadership needs to be maintained and leaders need to be comfortable and confident in making snap decisions without all available information and without consensus.
Leaders need to be freed up to build teams and systems that are resilient, robust, effective, efficient and responsive under the pressure of a disaster environment (Ammar, 2007). Teams need to be trained in rapid response and in how to eliminate bureaucratic barriers to action while organisational structures need to improve information flow to employees, customers and stakeholders especially during turbulent times (Thomas & Fritz, 2006; Ammar, 2007). Planned training and education in a progressive and consistent manner ensures confidence in one’s ability to perform tasks in high pressure situations.
Disaster leadership is very much like military leadership in that it needs to inspire and motivate without the use of rewards as they are ineffective when serving in disaster conditions where leadership will directly influence the well-being and/or survival of both the leader and his or her followers.
- Lessons must be learnt from recent disaster response.
- Proper organisational structures need to be considered prior to disaster in order for organisations to be effective and efficient during the course of a relief effort.
- Future plans must include the establishment of a nuanced priority system for assessing potential courses of action.
- Bureaucratic barriers to action need to be eliminated in order to improve the speed of responses when lives are at stake.
- Leaders must be taught, once again, to be decisive.
- Long-term collaborative partnerships with humanitarian aid/relief agencies should be investigate in preparation for the next crisis/disaster.
Ammar, A. (2007). Role of leadership in disaster management and crowd control. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 22(6), 527-528.
Department of the Army. (2006). Army leadership: Competent, confident, and agile.
Janz, M., Soi, N., & Russell, R. (2009). Collaboration and partnership in humanitarian action. Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, 45(December).
Johnson, B., Connolly, E., & Carter, T. (2011). Corporate social responsibility: The role of fortune 100 companies in domestic and international natural disasters. Corporate Social Responsible Environment Management. 18, 352-369.
Thomas, A. and Fritz, L. (2006). Disaster Relief, Inc. Harvard Business Review.