The Social Impact Opportunities with Hurricane Harvey Relief in Houston, Texas

houston, texas, harvey, relief, efforts, social enterprise, nonprofit, business, not-for-profit, entrepreneur, startup

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” 
-Henry Ford

I can think of no better way to summarize my conversation with Nathan than this quote from Henry Ford. The devastation witnessed in my hometown Houston, Texas has sent shockwaves throughout all aspects of life here.  Cultural norms have shifted, evidenced in our new way of greeting one another. Pre-Harvey you might have given a fairly sub-conscious, “How are you?” Salutations now have morphed into much longer discussions around, “How you [faired]in the storm.” Even more alarming, damage estimates tally to more than 100-200 billion dollars, meaning the impact of Hurricane Harvey will be felt long after the conversations die down. Many, I fear, will never recover.

It’s with this reality that Nathan and I got a chance to have an honest chat about the relief efforts in Houston; current and those to come. The number of relief funds, for those who may be wondering, continue to grow by the day; that’s the good news. The bad news? We’re not entirely sure who those funds are going to.  And while spectators might be inclined to rest easy after reading about the amounts fundraised by the City of Houston, or the JJ Watt foundation, make no mistake about it. The need for help is far from over or satisfied.

The days following the Hurricane were a love fest.  You couldn’t walk past someone in the street without an empathetic smile and generous “are you ok?” People (quite literally) walking the streets, looking for ways to help. A level of unity that was unreal, and something that I as a native hadn’t seen before. The city came together in a way unprecedented then, and even now (Go ‘Stros!).

But my concern doesn’t lie in in the “coming together,” part of Ford’s quote. Honestly, it’s not in the “keeping together” either, though it’s just as important. No, my anxiety can be found squarely in this “working together” thing he talks about.

In a city traditionally known for silos, uncoordinated relief efforts haven’t helped. When asked by Nathan what efforts could be done, and what efforts should be done, my thoughts trended the same; we all need to act with intentionality.

Whether you’re a social enterprise coming into Houston, a charity that’s been working in Houston for 20 years or just an individual who wants to help now isn’t the time for ego. To be impactful, to reach those communities who need help in the way they need help we need to be deliberate in our actions.

Take the time to build relationships with the communities and populations in need. Get boots on the ground and see those needs first hand. While you’re there, talk to people (for goodness sake) and create those trusting bonds that without which make your efforts futile. Bring all of this back and come up with a plan. Not a vision, but a plan for implementation.  Along these lines, create thoughtful collaborations and partnerships that allow you to leverage; whether that be assets, resources, expertise or money. Work together. Listen, truly listen to what’s going on in the city and innovate around pain-points, in a way that is collectively impactful and has exponential value.

Do all of this with a humility and awareness that allows you to continue checking yourself; are you on the right path? Have you veered and do you need to course correct? Are you falling into silos? And are you patching problems or are you innovating and solving them?

This same diligence has to carry forward to those who choose to donate funds as well. Take the time to research the organizations you donate to, looking at its plans for disbursing the funds. No plan? Then perhaps you wait until there is one, or fund someone else with a plan in place. Pull the annual tax forms charities are required to file (the form 990) and see how they’ve spent funds in the past. What are the percentages, and are you comfortable with them? Do the even have expertise in relief, and if not where is that expertise coming from?

This work isn’t easy and it isn’t for everyone, another takeaway from the interview. Nor should it be easy. But for those willing to take up the challenge, Houston is ripe and ready for change. Towards the end, I talk about the new initiatives and funding Mayor Turner is putting in place to support those businesses and charities who want to affect change. As well as the ways companies such as mine work with change-maker’s to help them “be [that]change.” Because it’s only when we work together that we’re a success.

So with that, I leave you to listen and enjoy.





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