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Response to Public Health Aspects of the Ukraine Crisis: Lessons for the world

Dean Axelrod, Direct Relief

Thursday, March 24, 2022, 7 pm PST

After a warm welcome by Richard Dasher, some general remarks by Martine Peetermans, Ambassador Gunther Sleeuwagen, Consul General for Belgium in Los Angeles, kicked off the conversation. Belgium, among other European countries, is providing all kinds of care as the Ukraine conflict evolves. The relief efforts target the Ukrainian people, as well as the neighboring countries that are receiving people fleeing the war.

Medical assistance is provided along with emergency relief and overall support to anyone impacted by the crisis situation.

Dean Axelrod, Director of Partnerships and Philanthropy, then took the stage to highlight some of the efforts led by his organization, Direct Relief.

Direct Relief doesn’t let its non-profit status be a hindrance in the pursuit of best practices. The organization focuses on execution as much as it focuses on the people it seeks to serve. A very compelling reason for Dean to join this organization.

Dean expertly explained that the most vulnerable people in any emergency are those who were already vulnerable before the crisis happened. Often, government programs show gaps, letting the most vulnerable ones fall through the cracks. So what we witness in a crisis situation, is a matter of scale: populations who already were at risk, need even more help. That compounded by the fact that populations in need might be exponentially bigger than before a crisis happened, makes for very challenging circumstances.

In any crisis situation, there is a surge in need and a reduction in access. Direct Relief’s success is anchored on the following two beliefs/values:

  1. They work directly with local partners who they trust, and who know what is needed.

  2. They are successful in finding partners in the business community to join hands.

It is obvious that building these relationships take time. In Dean’s words: trust needs to be built long before a crisis occurs. Part of building that trust means accepting that someone may not want your help at that moment. The key is to be patient, to be willing to listen and wait, and to ask before telling.

These core principles show up everywhere in the organization, even when it comes to donor appreciation. Always honor the donor’s intent.

Ambassador Gunther Sleeuwagen complimented Dean’s approach. The professional way of assisting in a crisis situation, knowing when to act and knowing when to step aside, certainly demonstrates the high professionalism of Direct Relief’s efforts.

In closing, more wisdom was shared, especially for anyone looking to contribute in a meaningful way:

As an organization, give donors a way to help others that they may not have been able to help without you.

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