Disaster Response in the New Economy

By: Anthony DeMaio, Director

As Houston continues to reel from the effects of #Harvey and Florida braces for #Irma, American generosity is once again in full display as individuals, nonprofits and the business community come together to help those in need. In this outpouring of compassion, we are also witnessing a transformation in corporate philanthropy. While many legacy corporations continue to operate business as usual, newer companies, including disruptive technologies, are exhibiting a new kind of corporate citizenship. Delta Air Lines would do well to take a cue from Uber, for example.

The Miami Herald reported today that airfares had skyrocketed in recent hours prompting some consumers to vent their frustrations with the major air carriers on social media with some posts going viral. On the other side of reality are major tech players like Airbnb and Uber. Once again, the hospitality company Airbnb is pushing its Disaster Response Program, encouraging hosts to open their properties to people displaced by the storm, helping them find warmth and safety free of charge. Airbnb’s program launched in 2013 is an outgrowth of its grassroots efforts to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy. Uber is offering free rides to and from Harvey shelters in Houston, Austin, Dallas, and other cities in Texas. According to the company, “No action is required to receive a free ride to or from these locations – the full discount will be applied and reflected in the app when you request UberX.”

To be fair, most legacy corporations, including the big airlines, have robust #CSR operations, contributing valuable support to the relief efforts. In many cases, however, their playbooks could benefit from a refresh. There’s still a need for big checks, aircraft and trucks loaded with supplies, free flights for responders and aide workers, and other traditional response initiatives that only large-scale organizations can muster. But, when compared to the immediate utility of Uber and Airbnb’s contributions, the conventional response programs seem outmoded. And their humanitarian response is largely eclipsed by the negative PR engendered by allegations of price gouging.

Perhaps in the future we’ll see airlines – and other big companies – looking to make a more substantive contribution in the face of a devastating storm. At the very least, they need to know that corporate greed has no place during a natural disaster. Every company should be thinking about their CSR plans.