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Crisis response – Lessons learnt

Rātā Foundation chair Christine Korako looks at the role philanthropic organisations can play after a crisis.

A positive outcome of the Christchurch earthquakes was the emergence of stronger collaboration between local and central government, Iwi and philanthropic funders. Post-earthquakes we learnt a lot from our communities; importantly that people are best placed to lead their own recovery and define what will have the most impact for them.

Tragically, on March 15 Christchurch experienced further crisis with 51 people from its Muslim community losing their lives and many more injured as a result of a gun attack in two mosques. As the South Island’s largest philanthropic funder, we knew we had an immediate role to play after the shootings but importantly that we are also here for the long term.

The response required is one that engages across sectors and funders, with real partnership between philanthropy, non-profits, Iwi, local and central government, and the private sector. The value of our existing, positive, long-term relationships and established processes of collaboration within our region cannot be underestimated.

Lessons from one crisis inform the response to the next.

What we learnt from the Christchurch earthquakes was that in times of crisis, we need to be adaptive and responsive and reach out quickly to affected communities as well as understand and plan for their long term needs.  In this instance, partnering with Christchurch City Council and Ngai Tahu, we were able to provide fast, practical financial support to ensure basic necessities were available to the people, assisting with the initial community response. This is important because most public donations are aimed at directly supporting victims and their families.  We understand that the infrastructure to support also needs funding.

After a crisis there is often a lot of immediate support from people outside the city. The valued role local agencies and philanthropic funders play is their ability to work together to think about what the community’s medium and long-term recovery needs will be. Our earthquake experience showed us that community-led responses are really important in recovery.  There appears to be a willingness from local partners to ensure the voice of the community is central.

We also know funding alone is not enough. In recent years, we have invested heavily into enabling people to build and strengthen their leadership and capacity skills.

While there are lessons we can apply to the mosque shootings from the Christchurch earthquakes, there are also crucial differences. We need to examine our cultural competency in dealing with the Muslim community and listen in order to understand what their needs are.    This is true for all organisations involved.  

Promoting community cohesion is not new thinking for Rātā Foundation – it is part of our current funding priorities. We aim to ensure our communities have a sense of belonging by celebrating different cultures and ensuring our diverse communities can participate widely. We also aim to ensure newcomers are well supported. Our staff are building on their trusted relationships within the multicultural sector to ensure we remain connected.

The terrible events on March 15 is not the only disaster to face our stakeholders. Unfortunately communities within Rātā’s funding regions have experienced a range of “disasters” over the past 9 years – from the Canterbury and Kaikoura earthquakes to the devastation caused by Cyclones Fehi and Gita, and the Tasman Fires.  Over that time Rātā has been involved in different ways.

Trustees want to develop a set of principles on how Rātā should respond in the event of future disasters.  By developing these principles, Rātā can capture some of its learning from being involved in recent events and prepare for future events accordingly. This will also give increased certainty to trustees, staff, communities and other funders as to what they may expect from Rātā at those times.