Katrina Ten Years Later: Philanthropy’s Reflections and Lessons Learned
September 3, 2015
(Melissa Moy is the special projects associate for Glasspockets and Janet Camarena is the director of transparency initiatives.)
Although Hurricane Katrina is one of the most devastating and catastrophic events this country has faced, the disaster inspired heroic acts of courage, banded neighbors and communities together, and served to shine a bright spotlight on how philanthropy and our collective capacity to give, can generate hope and promise during even our bleakest hour.
According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, at $108 billion, it is the nation’s most costly natural disaster and one of the most deadly hurricanes with more than 1,800 lost lives.
Hurricane Katrina also left a unique and indelible mark on philanthropy, with Giving USA estimating that $6.5 billion came from the private sector in just the two years following the disaster. However, given the enormous impacts on community health, shelter, jobs and the economy, philanthropy and government had an unprecedented challenge in addressing the great and urgent needs of New Orleans and the surrounding areas in Katrina’s aftermath.
Anniversaries offer a natural opportunity for reflection and remembrance.
Since anniversaries offer a natural opportunity for reflection and remembrance, the last few weeks have provided a number of articles, reports, and programs that open up the work in new ways, showing both transparency around data and lessons learned, as well as pointing to potential ways forward with continuing challenges. Below is a round-up of the various resources that have recently been produced related to helping us better understand and learn from our field’s continuing efforts to render aid, hope, and ultimately change for the better:
- New coalitions and opportunities arose in the areas of education reform; economic development and entrepreneurship; criminal justice reform; and housing recovery. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, New Orleans has released a resilience strategy.
- The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), which focuses on “the when, where and how of informed disaster giving,” recently released an assessment of how and where foundations are spending their dollars. Members of the CDP also shared their perspectives on lessons learned and discussed how some organizations were transparent about their failures. For example, the American Red Cross admitted to their failure when fraud occurred while providing financial assistance.
- Foundations and organizations also report disparities, including racial and economic impacts. For example, a report from the Urban League of New Orleans finds that recovery efforts have disproportionately benefited white residents, and that many African American residents who left the region after the disaster, have not returned.
- For an examination of Katrina’s significance to our national struggle with race and class, our own PhilanTopic’s Mitch Naufft’s recent blog, “When the Past is Never Gone,” is a must read.
- Overall, philanthropic organizations can inform and promote their goals and results through innovative storytelling. Katrina 10 – a group of nationwide foundations and corporations – is one such entity that is sharing recovery data.
Data and infographics, particularly through the use of social media, provide foundations and others, a unique opportunity to report on events on the ground as well as how, where and who receives funding. Additionally, foundations can tell unique stories with data and infographics, and expand opportunities for transparency.
People often say that time heals all wounds; the recurring theme from the resources might instead lead us to believe that though it does heal some wounds, the passing of time also creates new and unexpected wounds. As a result, the best way to truly heal may be to increase our collective understanding of what is working and what isn’t.
--Melissa Moy & Janet Camarena