Thousands of people dead or dying. Infrastructure obliterated. Homes and livelihoods lost to cataclysmic and unexpected destruction. Such are the results of lands laid waste by Tropical Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar May 3, 2008, and the earthquake that shattered southwestern China nine days later.
Yet, the people of Myanmar and China are not without assistance, as humanitarian aid comes not just from groups charged with helping the afflicted also but from associations, corporations and thousands of employees worldwide—despite reports that some aid might not be reaching intended victims.
The American Red Cross told SHRM Online that Wal-Mart, Merck & Co., Fed Ex, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Merrill Lynch, IBM, State Street Bank, AT&T and other corporations are donating money directly or are matching their employees’ contributions to relief efforts in China and Myanmar. Canadian-based PotashCorp., which produces fertilizer and animal feed, donated $100,000, and Atlanta-based UPS pledged $200,000 to CARE, the international humanitarian organization, to support its efforts to deliver aid to Myanmar (previously Burma). Hilton HHonors members can donate their HHonors points for cash to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
One of the chief problems in obtaining donations, however, is allegations that aid is not getting to those in Myanmar who need it. Myanmar, which is ruled by a military junta, has been a closed country for many years.
“I think some corporations have been somewhat reluctant—just given the news reports about getting supplies there, but we’ve stayed in contact with the corporations and we expect more will be supported in the coming weeks,” Eric Barese, senior officer International Disaster Fund Raising for the American Red Cross told SHRM Online.
Bill Doyle, PotashCorp's president and CEO, announced that it would provide support because of the “prospect of significant food shortages throughout that country. This is an issue that defines our company—and we will be there for the people of Myanmar.”
Just days after disaster struck Myanmar, news reports revealed that the junta ruling Myanmar was refusing to let aid workers in the country to distribute help. They have since allowed some aid to trickle in. However, the Associated Press reported that the military refused to dole out the best supplies and was handing out rotten food to victims. The United Nations said that between 63,000 and 100,000 people have died as a result of Cyclone Nargis, which struck the Southeast Asian country May 3. At least 2 million people were homeless.
However, unlike most international relief organizations, Alumni Myanmar Institutes of Medicine Association (AMIMA), based in Elkins Park, Pa., has long been active and successful in initiating medical care in Myanmar. AMIMA is composed of physicians who hail from the region and have fewer problems bringing medicine and supplies into the country. The little-known group is currently soliciting funds.
“This fund drive is fundamentally important since AMIMA members who are native Burmese are saving lives at ground zero level as we speak,” Jennifer Chu, M.D., told SHRM Online via e-mail May 13. “We have news that cholera has already broken out and that there is also a high incidence of asthma. We are able to distribute clean water, food and medical supplies as well as give medical care to people in the most devastated delta regions where access is limited to native Burmese.”
Said Lisa Hamilton, president of the UPS Foundation, "The people of Myanmar are facing great tragedy, and The UPS Foundation is eager to respond to the call for help.” She added that the global transportation company “encourages other corporations and individuals to do what they can to help at this critical moment when lives are in the balance."
Small Companies Give, Too
Large corporations aren’t the only companies donating money. While the Gates Foundation as pledged $1 million to World Vision, the five-person firm TalktoCanada.com is donating $100 to Myanmar relief efforts. The company has been teaching English to foreigners online since 2006.
“Small companies obviously we can’t give a lot like the big, huge companies can, but we want to encourage other small companies to give,” Marc Anderson, founder of TalktoCanada.com, told SHRM Online in an interview over Skype from Korea.
He said World Vision has worked in Myanmar for more than 40 years and had nearly 600 staff in Myanmar when the cyclone hit. World Vision has helped 78,000 people in the Yangon area by providing rice and water. If other small organizations gave just $100 dollars each, World Vision would only need 9,999 more contributions of $100 in order to reach their goal of $1 million raised from Canada, he added.
"If every small company in the developed world gives just a few dollars, it can make a huge difference in the lives of people thousands of miles away," he said.
Aliah D. Wright is manager and editor of SHRM Online’s Ethics and Sustainability Focus Area.
Summit Makes Social Responsibility Priority No. 1, SHRM Online, May 2008
When Does Philanthropy Pay? HR Magazine, May 2008
HR Becomes Key Player in Corporate Social Responsibility, SHRM Online, January 2008
The American Red Cross
The Alumni of Myanmar Institutes of Medicine (AMIMA)
Save the Children
Doctors Without Borders