Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Pooling of Resources for Humanitarian Operations

The New York Times has a very interesting, provocative article on the pooling of resources for humanitarian operations and, in particular, as applied to Haiti, but the topic is broader and relevant in other disaster and humanitarian relief contexts. The article is focused on the pooling of financial resources and notes that the Red Cross, although it did not have a large presence in Haiti prior to the earthquake, because of its brand name recognition, has received many more financial donations than has Partners in Health, which has had a large presence in Haiti, even before the earthquake struck on January 12, 2010.

The issue of financial donations to relief organizations and providing stakeholders with proper accounting of donations is an important one and two of my former doctoral students, who are now professors, Dr. Tina Wakolbinger and Dr. Fuminori Toyasaki, are actively researching this topic.

I would argue that cooperation among humanitarian organizations in relief operations is critical and I have written on this topic earlier in this blog. In particular, as was evident in Haiti, there were numerous demand points (and there still are) for such products as water, food, medicines, and tents and the networks of different organizations were not working together in a synergistic manner. Some of the issues were obviously ones of lack of communication and coordination. Nevertheless, when it comes to the pooling of resources, including financial ones, by being able to represent the various activities of the humanitarian organizations as networks, one can actually quantify the synergistic gains from cooperation.

In joint work with Dr. Trisha Woolley and Dr. Patrick Qiang, we have developed a synergy measure that can be used to assess the benefits of cooperation by sharing of network resources. The work is documented in a study entitled, "Multiproduct Supply Chain Horizontal Network Integration: Models, Theory, and Computational Results," which is in press in the journal International Transactions in Operational Research. I presented this work earlier at the humanitarian logistics conference that I had organized, under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation, that took place at its Bellagio Center.