Corporate sponsorship of disaster relief, is it altruism?

A recent article which was shared via the IAEM Discussion Group got me writing this morning. The article discussed “corporate social responsibility” efforts in Java, in response to the volcanic eruption there. The story observes how the "disaster relief teams aim to augment efforts by a stretched Indonesian government to house, clothe and feed evacuees from the volcano."

According to the story, representatives of various companies are working on the mountain said their efforts are "entirely altruistic", and balked at any suggestion that the aid teams double as a marketing campaign for the companies. But local residents and evacuees were not so sure.

“Why can’t they just do the good stuff, but without the advertising?” 
“Why can’t they just use plain white vehicles or something?”

Dave, who posted this to IAEM, found this article interesting for the ethical aspects. When doing good for someone or when providing relief during crises, Dave thinks that most of us in this field follow a moral imperative.
"To wit, we help our fellow human beings because it's the right and good thing to do."
So, should we castigate companies for advertising their wares during a crisis? Or should we be grateful?

This question, "What are your thoughts on corporate sponsorship of disaster relief?" got me thinking...

And I think it is a good thing. And a little free advertising is not a bad thing. We need private industry involved in disaster response and relief. Whether they donate it or get paid to do it, private industry have much more resources that f/s/l agencies and VOADs do and they are much better in distribution than we are. If they get a bit of advertising and good press for their efforts, it is only fair when they are giving away tons of stuff and money. For example: Anheuser-Busch has donated 5.7 million cans of water to relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina. You can see the can here:

While there is certainly a need and a place for donations, the idea of us giving away stuff as the response to disaster needs to change IMHO. If you have heard Administrator Fugate talk about the "Whole of Community", you know that the concept is that the community needs to do more in the event of a disaster. To me, corporate America is part of our community.
“We need to move away from the mindset that federal and state governments are always in the lead, and build upon the strengths of our local communities and, more importantly, our citizens. We must treat individuals and communities as key assets rather than liabilities.”  - Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator
After seeing people drive past an open supermarket to go line up for hours to get free ice and water, I think he has a point. If the big box stores and other retailers can get open we do not need to be giving stuff away. If the community can take care of itself, we do not need to swoop down and hand out water. Public and private organizations and love to make donations after disasters, so much so that Donation Management becomes a huge problem. Maybe it is time to rethink this and change.

As for the moral imperative to help your neighbor? Of course there is such an imperative but better that we help them prepare than give them stuff they should already have or be able to get in their community. Do we need to send truck loads of donated clothing and water? Maybe not. Maybe in some communities but not all. Maybe we cannot get there due to the size and scale of the catastrophe. Maybe the community needs to be able to take care of itself for a while.

My final thought on moral imperatives and altruism (to benefit others over one's own interests). I do not think there is much true altruism in what we or corporations do. We do it because we have a reason. The reason may be because it is what we do, how we were raised, what we believe in, what our job is, or because we think it will benefit us. A story about Abe Lincoln describes an example.

One day while President Lincoln was going to the Congress, he saw a helpless pig stuck in the mud. He felt pity for the animal and wondered how he would feel if he was in the pig's place. He decided to help the pig. He told his driver to stop the carriage, so that he could pull the pig out of the mud.

The driver stopped the carriage, and President Lincoln got out. The driver said to the President, "You wait, I will take him out. I don't want your clothes to get dirty."

The President replied "I do not care for my clothes. The pig's life is more important."

The driver said, "Please wait and let me try. If I fail, I will ask for your help."

The driver tried very hard, but he could not pull the pig out of the mud. So the president helped the driver pull the pig out. While doing that the President's clothes became very dirty. The driver offered to take him back home so that he could change his clothes. The president however told him that he did not want to be late for the meeting, and asked him to drive towards the Congress building.

When he reached at the meeting, everyone wondered what happened to the president. The driver explained everything. He told them how the president saved the life of a helpless pig. Everybody in Congress praised the president for his kindness.

When you show kindness, friendship and love towards other living beings, you get lot of happiness and satisfaction in return. You also get regards from others.

In another version of this story the President is to have said that he did it because he would have felt awful if he did not help. That is the motivation to help, you just don't want to feel bad for not helping, you want to feel good to have helped. Perhaps that is why many of us are in this business...

Thanks, now that I have posted this, I feel better!

Steve Davis

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