China Development Brief no. 58 (Summer)
Liu Zhouhong, Secretary General of the Narada Foundation, tells CDB Editor Fu Tao about what Narada learnt from participating in the 2013 Lushan earthquake relief effort.
Since 2008, the Narada Foundation has continually supported the disaster relief operations of non-profit organizations. Our role is to support operational costs and logistical expenses. After the 8:00 am earthquake on April 20th 2013 occurred, we began following the situation closely. On that first day, we joined the “Chengdu Public Interest Circle” Wechat group, and saw that the 420 joint rescue operations platform (hereafter 420 platform) was very active, and its division of labor was very clear. We believed that we had to support this type of joint action. On the afternoon of April 20th, we received a short e-mail from the 420 platform, asking if we could provide 20,000 yuan of support. According to our customary regulations, we need detailed project proposal and signed agreements to accept a project, and money is sent after we have received the invoice. However, that time we broke the rules and, once it was approved, the funding was sent before all the regular requirements were processed. During the discussion that evening , Xu Yongguang put forward the idea that 20,000 yuan may not be nearly enough. As we fully trusted the 420 platform, we decided to raise the subsidy amount to 200,000 yuan and see how it went. If 200,000 were not enough, we decided we would discuss the issue again. If the 200k were all spent, we thought we would use the remaining money to develop the 420 platform further in the future.
On the 24th, my colleagues came to Chengdu on a business trip to see the places where the money had been received. While the volunteers were loading the car, an unexpected situation happened. The driver suddenly asked for a fee of four thousand yuan. A few days prior, logistical fees were free, but it was understandable that a cost would emerge later. At that time, the “420 Alliance” discussed, whether or not they should unload. A colleague asked if we would be supportive of the extra logistical costs, and I said that we would. Then they managed to talk the price down to 2800 yuan, and the money saved was very useful. If they need more financial support in the future, we will continue to support this platform, which can manage regular disaster relief mechanisms and provide capacity building trainings.
Speed is a critical element of an emergency rescue and response phase. When we received proposals, project officers would begin discussing the issue on the same day, clarifying potential problems. If the proposal was not clear, then we would communicate by phone. Once we had helped making corrections, the proposal was sent to project relief teams. After fully discussing it, the summary was sent to me. The decision of approving or not approving the funds was to be decided before noon every day. During those days I had to work 15 to 16 hours every day, and take my laptop along with me when I went out on business trips.
The experience taught me that our foundation must be prepared, with a clear funding direction, strategy and positioning. Secondly, after the earthquake, the foundation must observe what other organizations are doing and find a team worthy of support. Thirdly, during normal times, it must develop ties with core organizations that are knowledgable and trustworthy. This way, when facing a sudden situation, decisions will be made quickly and will be met with approval and support.
The 420 platform is only one of the ways we provided support. In fact, many of our projects provided services to support organizations. For example, we funded the “Public Interest Day” disaster psychological assistance project. The project team recruited and selected volunteers online, providing them with psychological disaster intervention training, and then sending them to organizations in disaster areas. We also supported organizations that monitored water for environmental protection (such as the Genesis Green Center), as well as volunteer training for the Earthquake Disaster Mitigation Education Centre. I believe that foundations should fund and support grassroots efforts to enable them to be more effective. When starting rescue efforts, whether they support grassroots organizations or co-operate with the government, foundations must first consider how to do the job most effectively, rather than how to spend the money as quickly as possible. They should consider how to ensure safety, knowing that giving money to the government is not necessarily the right answer. The key is to establish a mechanism to ensure the safety of funds. The Narada Foundation has 10 million yuan, and we can approve and support projects quickly if they are good and the needs are clearly identified.