March 22-24 is less than two weeks away, and here’s where I hope you’ll be: in New Orleans, with more than 200 people involved in philanthropy, for Katrina @ 5: Partners in Philanthropy.
In 2005, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a few prescient funders may—in the midst of trying to help then and there— have thought to themselves, “In five years, we should take a step back, look at how well we did and how much good we’ve done, and think about how we can do better.”
I’d wager, though, that most of us weren’t thinking that far ahead. The enormity of the situation was so overwhelming—mostly, of course, to those directly affected, but also to those scrambling to support the response. Even the most knowledgeable disaster grantmakers were grappling with something new and impossibly complicated. And after the initial response came the staggeringly vast task of helping devastated communities get back on their feet—ideally, stronger than before.
In the midst of all that, opportunities for getting perspective, taking stock, and learning lessons were scarce.
Now is the time. It is almost five years since the devastating storms. While I hesitate to call this a fifth “anniversary,” it is certainly a milestone year. That is why the Association of Small Foundations, of which I am CEO, has joined with 35 other philanthropy organizations to present the Katrina @ 5 conference. We will take a close, hard, on-the-ground look at what has and hasn’t worked across many sectors of life and work in the Gulf Coast. And what we hear, see, and discuss will help us serve not only that region but communities everywhere.
Nearly a billion dollars of foundation funds went to the Gulf Coast, not including government and private donations. What do we have to learn from those who are still leading the recovery? Today, are the residents on their own? How can the lessons of the Gulf Coast inform our response in Haiti, Chile, or the inevitable next disaster location? Are we already learning new lessons from Haiti? Is it time rethink how we direct the enormous outpouring of volunteer time and money?
Ultimately, we will ask this: How do you use the moment, with its visibility and resources, not just to rescue and rebuild, but to transform, to make better. A passion for making things better is why we are involved with philanthropy, and it is why I hope you will join us for Katrina @ 5.
Tim Walter is the CEO of the Association of Small Foundations.