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International relief agencies that raced to aid Indonesia’s tsunami-ravaged Aceh province have a lot to learn from the unique management challenges they confronted there, says Dan Curran (MBA ’00), administrative director of the School’s Humanitarian Leadership Program. Most importantly, centralized recovery planning should take a backseat to helping survivors with immediate recovery needs, such as clearing debris and restoring their livelihoods.

Curran speaks from firsthand experience: He spent seven weeks during January and February helping the field leadership of five United Nations relief agencies develop overall strategy and serving as deputy director for Mercy Corps, an innovator in entrepreneurial disaster relief. He plans to channel what he learned in Aceh province into the academic arena to benefit the Humanitarian Leadership Program (see sidebar).

The enormity of the December 26 disaster took weeks to fully gauge, but it was clear that Aceh province bore the brunt of the tsunami’s destruction. With over 200,000 dead and missing, 500,000 homeless, and 300 miles of coastline scoured nearly clean of villages and farms, the province became the focal point for a massive international relief effort.

Typical of crisis response efforts, relief agencies joined with the Indonesian government to discuss creating a master blueprint for recovery. Curran, however, concluded that the normal ways of working did not apply to Aceh province. “We simply needed to get out of the way and let the people rebuild,” he says. “The most important thing I learned is that central planning in such situations doesn’t work. It takes time and rarely matches the way that society actually works.” A more effective response, he contends, is a “strategy of emergence.” By this he means that relief agencies should first provide resources for survivors to manage their own recovery.

For example, Curran helped direct a program that distributed cash for work, such as paying villagers to clear debris or move fishing boats from their inland resting places. “We started with 80 workers in one village and ended with more than 4,000 in twenty villages,” he recalls. “This program returned over seventy boats to the water so that people could resume fishing for a livelihood.” Other grants helped survivors begin to rebuild devastated areas, allowing them to return to their former villages rather than remain in settlement camps, explains Curran.

Back on campus, Curran is working to place up to ten MBA students in summer jobs with NGOs in the tsunami zone. He’s gratified by the student interest. Says Curran: “I think people are only now realizing the value of having MBAs in the field.”

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2000, Section H

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