Community recovery and economic development are core elements of a successful disaster response and recovery strategy. For many communities who have been hit by a major disaster, a return to normalcy for their community has taken between 5 to 7 years.

Community recovery encompasses all facets of disaster recovery and includes:

  • assessing the damage,
  • gathering and tracking data,
  • establishing systems and protocols,
  • organizing volunteers,
  • applying for federal, state and local aid,
  • mobilizing and/or establishing local VOADVoluntary Organizations Active in Disaster’s and Long Term Recovery Groups,
  • rebuilding infrastructure (roads, bridges, power lines, water and sanitation facilities, etc.),
  • cleaning up environmental damage,
  • rebuilding schools, hospitals, and other public and private buildings,
  • rebuilding private single and multi-family homes and rental properties,
  • establishing community and small business loan programs,
  • supporting and promoting mental health and wellness programs,
  • establishing and funding grant programs to support 5 to 7 years of recovery efforts.

Advance planning and preparation are essential for communities to recover quickly and efficiently.

Philanthropic leaders can play an important role in convening stakeholders and creating an environment that supports collaboration, transparency and accountability.

Innovative Practices

Philanthropic organizations have led the way in responding with bold and forward-thinking initiatives when their communities have been hit by disaster. These efforts have included:

  • embedding long-term recovery managers and resiliency coordinators in hard-hit communities to work directly with the local government officials, local community nonprofit leaders, long-term recovery group members and others;
  • deploying staff to help coordinate and activate an assessment process in order to gather reliable data that can inform early response priorities and long-term needs;
  • supporting complimentary retail design consultation and implementation grants for small businesses;
  • establishing disaster relief funds (especially for special populations);
  • supporting community-wide meetings and convenings that foster a culture of collaboration, share information across sectors, and build trust and a shared vision of recovery among community members;
  • supporting multi-media storytelling with curated data, research and calls to action that amplify the voices of community members working towards a just, equitable and fair recovery;
  • seeding investments to establish a small business loan program;
  • investing in “human capital” to help communities organize and implement a recovery program, engage citizens and impacted populations in the recovery process in a meaningful way, and access State and Federal funding.

What Funders Are Doing

The following are examples of innovative practices and grants that philanthropic organizations have supported, developed and/or implemented regarding community and economic recovery.

As part of Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund, the following grants have been distributed in support of Community and Economic Recovery:

  • $145,000 to the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative for immediate support of businesses owned by people of color to address the economic disruption caused by COVID-19, as well as support the long-term recovery and sustainability of the small business ecosystem.
  • $50,000 to Hands On Nashville to build capacity for Nashville-area organizations serving those directly and economically impacted by COVID-19 through volunteer recruitment and safe service support.
  • $75,000 to the Lee Initiative to help independent restaurants that have been feeding their communities reopen by connecting them with sustainable products and small, local farmers. This organization is based in Kentucky but works with partners on projects in several states.
  • $150,000 to the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) to support the COVID-19 response projects and direct relief funds of members representing food chain workers. Specifically, FCWA will provide direct relief for food workers affected by COVID-19, help provide premium pay for hazardous working conditions, support temporary emergency OSHA protections, provide and advocate for benefits for all workers regardless of immigration status and protect workers against wage theft, retaliation for organizing, etc.
  • $125,000 to Imagine Water Works to support their response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Louisiana, in addition to preparedness for the concurrent disasters of COVID-19 and hurricane season. Through its Mutual Aid Response Network, Imagine Water Works will focus on resourcing, connecting and supporting vulnerable populations in New Orleans and Houma.
  • $100,000 to provide Restaurant Workers Community Foundation (RWCF) the funding to support workers in crisis and small business owners with the Restaurant Workers COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. RWCF will provide 50% of funding for direct financial assistance to individual restaurant workers who have lost their job or wages/hours due to the pandemic through their partnership with Southern Smoke. An additional 25% will fund nonprofit organizations that are serving restaurant workers in crisis. The remaining 25% will provide zero-interest loans for restaurants to get back up and running once they are allowed to open.

The Minderoo Foundation Trust pledged AU$10 million (US$6.9 million) to immediate recovery needs in communities affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires. This grant is administered in collaboration with organizations such as the Australian Red Cross and The Salvation Army, with all administrative costs covered by Minderoo – allowing all of this money to flow directly to the community and economic recovery in affected areas.

In 2019, the Wells Fargo Foundation donated $1 million to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to stimulate economic recovery in underserved communities in Puerto Rico that were deeply impacted by Hurricane Maria. This grant supported the partnership between LISC and the micro-lending site Kiva and is expected to finance 70 businesses across Puerto Rico through the end of 2021. The very first loan from this grant went to a Puerto Rican publisher to support locally produced books on topics that are relevant to children and young adults in Puerto Rico.

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee donated $30,000 to the Living Hope Wheelchair Association to support a staff position that provides direct support and accompaniment to immigrant, undocumented and African American families who were affected by Hurricane Harvey. This grant had a particular focus on people with disabilities and functional needs and their families. It supported those who did not qualify for support from FEMA or who were denied support from FEMA.

In 2018, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a $548,647 grant to the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center Foundation in Bangkok, Thailand. This grant addressed humanitarian, rehabilitation and recovery needs of internally displaced people or those who had recently returned to their homes during the complex humanitarian emergency in Ethiopia.

Key Takeaways

  1. Immediate relief is completed relatively quickly.
  2. Full community recovery takes many years, as such, philanthropic leaders can continue to give voice to the importance of taking the long view and supporting initiatives that focus on long-term recovery.
  3. Nonprofits and/or local governments will need to increase their capacity in order to handle an influx of funding.
  4. Community leadership development will be essential.
  5. Recovery of local businesses is essential to the community’s long term economic recovery.

Further Reading