Two weeks after Typhoon Haiyan decimated coastal cities in the Philippines, aid finally is reaching survivors. More than 1.9 million people are homeless, without shelter, food or clean water. And more than 5,000 people have been confirmed dead with the toll still rising after the most intense storm in recorded history tore through remote island communities--some of the poorest in the country--with storm surges and winds reaching 190-230 mph.
Natural disasters like Haiyan cause painful loss and suffering. They also destroy the socio-economic fabric of its victims. Transportation and other infrastructure often is ruined, and the small business ventures that support families and the economy are destroyed.
In the weeks following a disaster, international aid must reach damaged communities with immediate needs like food, potable water, medicine, clothing, blankets and shelter.
But when the media coverage fades and the flood of giving slows, the region still faces challenges rebuilding a sustainable economy. This is when social enterprise can help, by infusing the recovery with entrepreneurial activities.
“By aligning both economic and social interests, we can leverage consumer habits to help increase prosperity, by providing job creation and stability through sustainable employment,” Kendra Wilkins, Co-Founder of Peanuts4Peanuts, explained to The Guardian.
Here are five stories of how small business helped boost economies after devastating disasters around the world:
- In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, the Japanese organization Emergency Relief to Disaster Victims established the Disaster Relief Recovery Leadership Development Project. Based in Tohoko, the project encourages young professionals who fled to larger cities to return to lead recovery activities. Since the earthquake, the young entrepreneurs have helped revitalize the community in creative ways. Among their innovative programs: A project that settled displaced communities in temporary housing and a business employing women who make accessories out of local materials, such as fishing nets and local deer antlers.
- The people in Minamisanriku, Japan, were dependant on wakame seaweed for their livelihood before the tsunami. Processing the seaweed not only required skill, but expensive equipment that was destroyed in the disaster. To get the community back in business, Mercy Corps, in conjunction with Walmart, provided the necessary equipment in time for the wakame harvesting season.
- Founded after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, 3 Chords trains and employs women and men who were handicapped by the disaster to make accessories, such as purses, iPad cases and the organization’s signature braided necklace and bracelet. "Since the earthquake, there has been a lot of short-term aid in Haiti, but creating sustainable and long-term jobs is a different story," Rebecca Troxler, of 3 Chords, explained to The Guardian.
- The Haiti earthquake put many shopkeepers, traders and craftspeople out of work, after having built up their small businesses over many years. Mercy Corps partnered with Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance institution, and SwissRe, a global reinsurer, to create a hybrid insurance product for clients who take out small loans. It provides a traditional payout for losses, and an automatic payment released when a natural disaster hits a specific magnitude, allowing small businesses to rebuild. During the 2011 hurricane season, more than 5,000 Fonkoze borrowers across Haiti received insurance benefits.
- Though most people in Kerala, India, earn their living from the fishing industry, other commercial industries needed support following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Rebuilding Livelihoods Amongst Tsunami Affected Communities in Kerala was a project established by Traidcraft to create and strengthen income opportunities for these poor communities. The program taught participants how to find new markets for their products, improve production and packaging, and increase sales. Small business owners reported increases in wages from 30 rupees (48 cents) per day to 150 rupees ($2.38) per day.
Relief organizations in the Philippines still are struggling to provide basic life-saving aid to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, and the country faces a massive, costly clean-up. But once it begins to recover, the Philippines will be an open market for social entrepreneurship, invigorating business from the ground up and rebuilding a self-sufficient economy.