Tsunami Pushed Philanthropy Forward

PNemcovaFive years ago today, the devastation caused by the tsunami in India, Indonesia, Sir Lanka and Thailand was overwhelming.  230,000 people were killed, thousands injured and 10 million were homeless or displaced. But the response by individuals, companies and foundations was just as overwhelming. Many groups, like theAsian Chefs Association held a gala to raise funds for disaster relief and recovery. Children in grade schools found creative ways to raise money to help other children across the world.

It is during times of difficulty and suffering that people rise to overcome the challenges they face. These are also times when people become more aware of the power they have to influence the outcome of certain situations and when philanthropists are created.  The Chinese actor and philanthropist, Jet Li started to think about giving back when he was in Maldives when the tsunami hit and he saw the devastation. Supermodel, Petra Nemcova lost her boyfriend and suffered a shattered hip and internal injuries.  She started the Happy Hearts Fund to help children affected by natural disasters.

I was working as a consultant with Give2Asia in 2006 to help them with their fifth anniversary celebration. As part of the events, Petra Nemcova was the featured guest.  At that time, Give2Asia donors provided over $4 million in relief for devastated communities and supported 57 projects managed by local charitable organizations that worked to create new opportunities for survivors of the tsunami. Petra had just returned from a trip to Sir Lanka and Thailand, visiting several of the projects she had supported before her stop at Give2Asia’s fifth anniversary celebrations.  The convergence of a powerful and tragic story, the stardom and access to media, and the desire to give back, created the perfect setting for the supermodel to be the champion for the Asian tsunami recovery.

Petra’s philanthropy evolved from tsunami recovery to helping vulnerable children all over the world. Jet Li became the philanthropy champion for China.  Give2Asia’s potential as an organization to help donors during disasters magnified.  Philanthropic experiments and organizations started in areas where they would never have worked before.  The tsunami created a wave of interest in international philanthropy and introduced countries and cultures to many people that had never heard of them before. While we hope another disaster like this never happens again, we are also amazed at how resilient people and organizations can be in times of disaster. From every story comes an opportunity to make the world just a little bit better.

About the picture: Give2Asia fifth anniversary celebration in San Francisco. Petra Nemcova with Give2Asia founding Chairman, Sandy Calhoun, Vice Chairman, Bill Fuller and founding CEO, Mike Rea.