By Joey Gaskins Jr
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, many Bahamians marveled at the sheer quantity and speed at which much-needed relief supplies and funding poured into the country.
From the deployment of armed forces from countries with which we have close ties to the multi-million-dollar donations by established tourism brands, we thankfully witnessed a variety of support flow into our island nation.
In 2018, my partners and I created Open Current—a Bahamian research, public and government relations firm—and many of our clients quickly sprang into action in the aftermath of the storm.
Including cash and in-kind donations, supplies, and proposed long-term investment in reconstruction, our clients have offered over $25 million to the relief effort, and it became our responsibility to steward both these donations and proposed investments strategically.
With so many moving parts to the relief effort and with the volume of funding and supplies donated, donors, storm victims, and the public-at-large began asking: Where are these donations going? Do we have the capacity in government or civil society to adequately track and distribute these donations? And, who will hold agencies and organizations accountable for what happens with what was donated?
That these questions arose in our discussion of relief efforts signals a growing demand for transparency and accountability across the Bahamian socio-political landscape. More specifically, our clients wanted to know, “When we give supplies, funding, or even propose possible long-term investment, how can we have the greatest impact?”
Our firm has approached answering this question for our clients as a serious challenge. Our task has been finding solutions that protect donations and investments, while also leveraging both to provide the most dynamic support for those affected by Hurricane Dorian.
We worked to address this challenge in three ways.
First, deploying our research capabilities has been key to informing to whom and to what contributions should go. Clients who have well-developed philanthropic or corporate responsibility policies already knew how they wanted to target their giving, while others needed help deciding on where to focus.
As we considered the scope of the devastation in Abaco and Grand Bahama, our policy research identified the recovery efforts post-Hurricane Katrina as a unique case study from which to draw. The mistakes and successes of that recovery effort have been invaluable in guiding how we advise our clients to give and in the design of their initiatives.
We spent a substantial amount of time inquiring about the capabilities, capacity, and reporting practices of various agencies and organizations. As relief efforts have progressed, internal conflicts, the collapse of processes, and a lack of transparency have led to several knock-on effects that may have stifled recovery work in some areas.
It is crucial to preserve the goodwill that comes attached to donations, in particular, and this means guarding it against poor management, opacity, and detrimental internal organizational politics.
Given that Open Current has both quantitative and qualitative research capabilities, we have also used our call-center for polling, gauging public perceptions of what areas of the recovery effort are most important to support at this time. We are also using focus groups to inform their needs assessments.
It is nearly impossible to run accurate national polling after a storm of this magnitude because of the displacement of so many in Abaco and Grand Bahama. This displacement means that we cannot adequately randomize the polling sample or weight a sample of Bahamians to ensure that it is nationally representative. But we can still garner some insight into public opinion and perception.
Furthermore, the qualitative data from specific groups affected by the storm has provided a nuanced understanding of their needs.
Second, our relationships with government officials have proven to be mutually beneficial. In the wake of the Category 5 storm, the public servants that worked around the clock—in the machinery of government and on the ground—provided real-time information that allowed our clients to maneuver quickly and with accuracy to provide crucial aid. This aid helped those most affected by the storm but also supported the work of government agencies.
Finally, we consider our media partners in everything we do. The incredible investment Bahamian media has made in covering Hurricane Dorian, and the recounting of the stories of those most affected by Hurricane Dorian went beyond just money spent on travel and accommodation. Lives were on the line.
We turned to the journalists we work with most closely to give us their unvarnished perspective on what was happening where they were—at the heart of it.
All these elements of our work have come together to inform how we advised our clients immediately after Hurricane Dorian and how we are stewarding the resources they are providing for the long-term benefit.
In facing the horror that was the most powerful storm to ever hit the Northwest Bahamas, it is tempting to give donations in a hurry or to throw money and supplies at the crisis, hoping it will make it to the most vulnerable. However, this can lead to wastage, missed opportunities and ultimately the theft of resources from those who need it the most.
Instead, and especially as we dedicate ourselves to the long and arduous process of rebuilding Abaco and Grand Bahama, through thorough research, engagement with key government actors, and independent sources on the ground, we can ensure that donations and investments have the kind of impact that truly makes a difference.
In turn, we must all demand the highest standards of transparency and accountability from agencies and organizations who have received donations on behalf of the Bahamian people—to ensure the efficacy of the work supported by those donations and to protect the global goodwill from which we have and continue to benefit.
Joey Gaskins Jr. is a Bahamian and graduate of Ithaca College and the London School of Economics. He is a senior partner at Open Current—a Bahamian research, public and government relations firm delivering strategic consulting, communications, and public engagement advice that unleashes our clients’ potential for growth in influence, reputation, and revenue.
To reach Joey email firstname.lastname@example.org.