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As crises grow, ASU expert looks at humanitarian aid efficiency

An ASU expert weighs in on how best to donate when the next big disaster hits.
June 2, 2017

Relief groups need more flexibility in spending, professor finds

In a tragic but common scenario, people turn on their televisions or check their phones and see news reports that another part of the world is reeling from disaster — flood, earthquake, famine or disease.

Moved by the distress, people send donations to relief organizations to help ease the suffering.

Humanitarian aid is a very complex cycle in which organizations leverage brief bursts of media attention into fundraising and then spend that money to help as many people as possible.

A W. P. Carey School of Business professor is one of the top experts in the field of humanitarian operations, and his latest paper explores the influence of media attention in how relief groups cooperate.

Mahyar Eftekhar, an assistant professor in supply-chain management at Arizona State University, said that his recent research found that newspaper and television exposure increases not only individual donations to humanitarian organizations, but also government funding as well.

ASU Assistant Professor
Mahyar Eftekhar

“The population is growing fast, and we know that humanitarian organizations’ budgets have remained almost fixed. But the demand is sharply increasing,” Eftekhar said.

Collaboration would allow organizations to be more efficient, but their funding structure — relying on news reports to drive donations — reduces the incentive to cooperate.

“They believe, ‘If I collaborate with you, it will dilute the media attention I could receive. I want to receive all the media attention,’ ” he said.

Interestingly, the groups might be right, he said. By not cooperating, each organization still receives funding, and overall, the donation sum is likely larger than if the groups pooled their efforts.

“Efficiency is always a requirement, but we’re saying the picture is not that they’re wasting money. No one is guilty here. They could use resources more efficiently but at the same time, the fact that they work individually, raise funds individually and target different groups of individuals for donations is good for society because they can have a higher income,” said Eftekhar, who, with his co-authorsThe paper is “The Role of Media Exposure on Coordination in the Humanitarian Setting” in the journal Production and Operations Management. Eftekhar’s co-authors are Luk Van Wassenhove of INSEAD in France, as well as two W. P. Carey School of Business supply-chain management members — Hongmin Li, an associate professor, and Scott Webster, who holds the Bob Herberger Arizona Heritage Chair. The organizations they reviewed included Doctors Without Borders, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services., analyzed the financial statements of 25 big humanitarian organizations from 2000 to 2015, and the number of times the groups were cited in newspapers and other media in four languages.

The team weighed different scenarios in which groups could collaborate and what the results might be. The results showed that policymakers might consider funding based on performance and not media attention.

“But this is another problem in that the way that performance is measured is how much money the organizations spend in the field, not how much is spent effectively,” he said.

Relief groups are constrained not only by uncertainty in their funding but also their lack of budget flexibility, Eftekhar said. He is finishing up a research project that examines how groups buy and deploy large equipment such as water purifiers, power generators and trucks.

“Usually what we believe is that items like food and medicine impact human life and reduce suffering, but if you don’t have a way to distribute the items, or a power generator to run an office in the field, you can’t deliver these items to people,” he said.

“You need people who work in the field. These people aren’t all volunteers. They need salaries. They need computers and telephones.”

When there’s a disaster, most donors want to earmark their money specifically for that event rather than allowing the organization to decide how to allocate funding.

“Therefore, these organizations don’t have permission to save money, and that narrows their decisions,” he said. “If this operation needs a million dollars, why should they spend 2 million? That a waste of money. It’s better to keep it for the next disaster. Disasters always happen.”

Donors also want to avoid funding charities that have too much administration, or “overhead.” In fact, the lower the administration costs, the higher the charities are ranked, according to many indicators.

But a lack of administration can lead to waste.

“The administration job is trying to do things better,” said Eftekhar, who two years ago did a case study on a large humanitarian organization that was having inventory-management problems.

“When we interviewed them, we realized that although their job is to distribute food to people in poor countries, they don’t have a supply-chain unit. We asked why and they said that 95 percent of their budget is earmarked and only 5 percent is for administration, so they handled supply themselves.

“They pay less for administration, but do they spend the other 95 percent effectively? I don’t think so.”

Eftekhar, who is from Iran, became interested in studying humanitarian organizations because of his background.

“We have a lot of earthquakes, floods, natural disasters. And man-made disasters because we had war. We had terrorist attacks in the beginning of the revolution,” he said.

“Sometimes when I think of my childhood, it was so natural for me to have war and disaster. It was a common thing.”

His doctoral supervisor was Luk Van Wassenhove, who pioneered the study of humanitarian logistics of developmental programs in the early 2000s.

“I wanted to work with him, and combined with my personal story about the country I come from, I decided I wanted to contribute,” he said.

“This topic is very interesting because it’s not just about helping people. It’s also about advancing our knowledge of the commercial supply chain.”

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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June 2, 2017

Bryan Brayboy and Kenja Hassan receive 2017 AAAED Rosa Parks Award

It’s not every day one’s name is mentioned in the same breath as the name Rosa Parks. It’s also not every one who has the honor of sharing that space with the late civil rights icon. 

Arizona State University has two names being added to that space.

Bryan Brayboy

Bryan Brayboy and Kenja Hassan are leading efforts to make connections and further understanding in the inclusive community that they are helping to build at ASU, and their work is being noticed.

The American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity have named Brayboy and Hassan recipients of the 2017 Rosa Parks Award. Joining a noteworthy list of past recipients that includes, among others, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, activist Ruby Bridges Hall and author-activist Tim Wise, the award recognizes those who have served as leaders and role models in their contributions to the betterment of society.

Kenja Hassan

Brayboy is the Borderlands Professor of Indigenous Education and Justice in the School of Social Transformation at ASU, where he currently serves as associate director. He also serves as special adviser to the president of ASU on American Indian affairs. Over the past 15 years, Brayboy and his team have created programs in Alaska, Arizona and Utah that have prepared more than 125 Indigenous teachers, most of whom are still teaching in Indian Country.

Hassan is the director of Cultural Relations and Special Projects at ASU. She works to forge relationships with diverse communities throughout the state of Arizona and serves as the liaison to the Asian-American, Pacific Islander and African-American communities. Hassan also launched the State of Black Arizona publication in 2008 and assists groups working on similar community/university collaborations.

The two recently sat down to discuss their achievements and the work that has led to their award recognition.

Video by Jamie Ell and Deanna Dent/ASU 


Here are more excerpts from their converation.

Brayboy on how interdisciplinary learning and teaching has transformed him personally and professionally:

I think the transformative part of this in many ways is being able to show up ready to respond to whatever challenges are put in front of us. One of the things I love about ASU and the multiple jobs that I have is that I get to come to the table with responses from lots of different disciplines and ideas and those are all welcome. I really appreciate all of that.

Hassan on what she shares with the community in her outreach as director of Cultural Relations and Special Projects:

People often overlook the economic benefits an institution of higher learning like ASU can have on the local community. I like to share the message that the university goes beyond preparing students to thrive in the workforce; that the university enterprise lends to economic development on a bigger scale. The research that we do, the buildings that we build and the things we learn about improving processes actually help to make all of these systems outside of the university function better.

Brayboy on introducing tough conversations about social issues in the classroom:

One of the classes I teach is Introduction to Justice Studies. Part of what we do is look at current media — from Fox News to hip-hop music — and really try to present different sides to a particular issue. We encourage our students to listen to people with different viewpoints and engage them with questions instead of thinking about how to rebut them. It’s really about asking, “How do we have conversations about these things and walk away with a sense of respect?” I think that really drives the kinds of conversations we are trying to have.

Hassan on what motivates her work to bring communities together:

What motivates me honestly is that ASU is committed to supporting our communities and we have that written down in the university’s charter. ASU is really saying that it is in the service of the people of Arizona and of the world. I love being a part of that and helping the university fulfill that mission on a day-to-day basis by reminding people that institutions of higher learning are here for you and for the entire state.

Brayboy on receiving AAAED's Rosa Parks Award:

I am fundamentally grateful to have received this honor. I think having my name tied to Rosa Parks is an unbelievable honor and for me it is a call for commencement. My work doesn’t end with this but it really is a start to this. To think that some of the work that I am doing is transformative in some of those ways begins with a profound sense of responsibility to continue doing this work and to do it better.

It was an important moment when Rosa Parks said “enough” for us, and I often wonder what will our “enough” moments be and how can we prepare young people to continue those moments to say “enough, it’s time for a new chapter.”

Hassan on receiving AAAED's Rosa Parks Award:

An award like this to me is a constant reminder of what people in the generations ahead of me had to do in order for me to have a comfortable life. The day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white man and to set off that whole chain of events that followed, she was taking her life into her hands. That was no small choice to make. Therefore, I have to be cognizant every single day that this is a celebration that I can take the bus and live in places that my parents and great-grandparents could not live.

I think having an award named for someone so big in the civil rights movement means that I have to be a constant embodiment of that movement and celebrate what I have today. It is an overwhelming honor and a responsibility to carry forward that message.


AAAED’s Awards Luncheon

Brayboy and Hassan will receive their awards at AAAED’s Awards Luncheon on Thursday, June 8, at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The 2017 AAAED Awards honorees are:

  • Drum Major for Justice Award: Dr. Shirley A. Jackson, president, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Arthur A. Fletcher Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Rufus Glasper, president and CEO of the League for Innovation in the Community College
  • Cesar Estrada Chavez Award: Dr. Harvey Kesselman, president, Stockton University
  • Rosa Parks Award: Dr. Bryan Brayboy and Kenja Hassan, Arizona State University
  • Edward M. Kennedy Community Service Award: Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission and Alan "AP" Powell, chairman of the Checkered Flag Run Foundation
  • Roosevelt Thomas Champion of Diversity Award: Oklahoma State University and the Arizona Diamondbacks

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