Monday, March 1, 2010

I can run and not help Haiti for free

If you live in the DC area and enjoy running, clean water access and Haiti relief efforts, you are going to love April 18th. Live Earth is sponsoring a global run for water, when people around the world will run the distance the average child or woman walks for clean water each day (6k). To make the event all the more enticing, Corrigan Sports Enterprises, Live Earth's local partner for the DC run, has offered to donate five gallons of clean water to Haitian relief efforts for every DC-area participant that signs up.

I was all on board up until that last part. I don't have to argue here that in-kind donations for disaster relief are ineffective. (Because that's done here, here, here and most succinctly, here. Email me for more if you'd like.) However, bottled water can be a necessary thing for disaster relief, depending on the situation, so I wanted to learn more. I emailed a representative at Corrigan Sports to see how exactly they planned to ship five gallons of water per DC runner to Haiti, and how they planned on distributing it once it got there.

The representative didn't know. He said the donations would be made to Live Earth's non-profit partner for the event, the Global Water Challenge, earmarked for the purchase of water. From there, the Global Water Challenge would go through one of its Haiti relief partners to get the water out to the people who need it.

There are a few things wrong with this plan of action, in my mind. Assuming Corrigan Sports does want their money to go to purchasing bottled water and nothing else, it will be difficult (or impossible) to track it, since there are so many intermediaries to go through. (GWC's website actually says to donate to one of their partners directly to help with Haitian relief, not to GWC itself.) Second, the Global Water Challenge partners are not organizations with long-standing development efforts in Haiti, which is essential to effective disaster relief. Third, and most fundamentally, Corrigan Sports is not basing its earmarked donation on any expressed need. It seems like they want the donations to go to water efforts because it fits nicely into the Live Earth event (which is not linked, except in DC, with Haitian relief at all.)

I expressed these thoughts to Corrigan Sports, saying I was concerned that their money might be wasted.  I suggested a general donation to an organization with a history in Haiti that has committed to development in the long term, like Partners in Health, might be better. The representative said that the charity partner for the event was Global Water Challenge and they were not concerned with a misuse of funds.

Obviously, my prodding alone isn't enough to change the minds of the people at Corrigan Sports. But I thought I'd ask the readers of this blog to express their views to them. If you live in the DC area, email Corrigan Sports and tell them you won't run in the event unless they change their donation to unrestricted funding for an organization with a commitment to long-term work in Haiti. (Even if you don't live in DC, email them anyways and tell them how you feel.) This will be a significant donation by Corrigan Sports that could be put to better use elsewhere.

It's hard for me to suggest this call to action because I want people to participate in the run. I think it will be informative and inspiring, with opportunities for further action. But, ultimately, I think it's more important to better serve those who need our help rather than feel good about participating in a global event.  And plus, I can save that forty dollars, run beside the race and make a donation on my own to Partners in Health.

So please, email Corrigan Sports and tell them why they need to think more about where their money is going.


  1. I am still on board with the Global Water Challenge. I have been aware of GWC's work over the past few years and sustainability is a primary focus of their programs and their partners DO have a good track record. Reading through GWC's website, it is clear that their programs are built to be sustainable and live long after its initial investment money runs out.

    In addition, GWC funds programs from any 'partnering' organization that proposes a solid program with three primary focuses: sustainability, scalability, and replication.

    Working in International Development, I see this being a very solid program design and find your analysis to be very one-sided. It seems to me that you did not take the time to actually read through GWC's website.

  2. Matt,

    Thanks for reading and for your comment. I think you bring up a good point, something I didn't address in the post. I don't universally disapprove of GWC, from what I've seen on their website, they seem to be a great organization with good, sustainable projects.

    But, if you look on the site, none of their projects are in Haiti. That is why I think it would be better for Corrigan Sports donated to another organization for Haiti relief. If they wanted to work towards global water access, GWC would be a fine organization to donate to.

    GWC actually recommends direct donations to their partner organizations, not to itself, if a donor is interested in Haitian relief. I feel like (and others would agree) that while those partner organizations (UNCIEF, CARE, PSI, CRS) may be good organizations to donate to in some cases, when it comes to Haitian relief, they are not the best. Because GWC doesn't recommend itself for Haitian relief, and the organizations they do recommend are not the best on Haitian relief, I think its fair to say GWC is not the best choice for water-oriented Haitian relief.

    However, if Corrigan Sports (or another donor) is interested in global clean water access, I see no reason why GWC would be a bad choice