The Red (double)Cross

When I think of an organization that I am proud of, one that I stand behind, one that I literally take the burgundy life nectar out of my body and give to – I think of the Red Cross. However, this blog isn’t about how much I love the Red Cross, it’s about taking off the fittingly parabled rose-colored glasses and looking for the sins beneath the surface. It all started with Haiti…

A few years had passed since the decimation of the area known as Haiti, where approximately 316,000 people died due to a massive earthquake and left hundreds of thousands homeless. The Red Cross had received nearly $488 million in donations to rebuild the lives that were shattered there; however, when you compute the equation of Renowned charity Organization + Millions of donated Dollars + Worthy Cause, you don’t always get = Great Outcomes. After this ample restructuring time had passed, local Haitian volunteers began to voice their concerns and grievances. But why? They’re working with the Red Cross, they’re in good hands, right? Finally, a local Haitian man had gathered up all the information he could get on the status of the recovery project and contacted the independent nonprofit news organization called “ProPublica” and spilled the beans. The anonymous Haitian had showed that the Red Cross had, after all this time and money spent towards rebuilding the Haitian peoples’ lives, built only six permanent houses.

Thanks to this on-the-ground local reporter, ProPublica’s Justin Elliot was able to go to Haiti and dig deeper into the situation. Unfortunately, when Elliot requested to view the records of The Red Cross’s transactions and allocations of funds, they refused to disclose many of the documents needed to give them the answers he was looking for. Finally, the story gained momentum from being a local concern to an international inquiry as NPR partnered with ProPublica to broadcast the story, force representatives of the Red Cross to make appearances on CNN in defense of their misuse of funds and to publish statements to the media addressing the concerns.

Now, before we all get out our pitchforks, torches, and bloodbags to demand a refund of our beloved burgundy life nectar, The Red Cross has made recovery efforts in the wake of the Haiti tragedy with rubble removal, clean water deliveries, and temporary shelter stations for the misplaced survivors. However, these actions are ones that we would expect to take place right in the wake of a disaster and not in the long-term recovery phase of the Haiti incident. The fact that there are only 6 permanent homes built is a reasonable concern, especially since there are other nonprofit organizations there that have now reportedly built thousands of permanent homes with fractions of the budget Red Cross has. Are we being to hard on Red Cross? Are we as a society trying to micromanage a massive organization on how it should function? Will this affect society’s willingness to donate blood or funds? You decide.


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13 thoughts on “The Red (double)Cross

  1. I wan’t expecting someone to choose a charitable organisation as a target for highlighting corporate misconduct. It is definitely most surprising that a non-profit organisation like the Red Cross, when compared with bottom line focused firms, would have operational issues. I think I can understand the difficulty of Red Cross not acting as quickly as one would expect. After all, the Red Cross’s business is that of the unexpected so it is hard to blame them for their supposed shortcomings since they were most likely unforeseen. With so much pressure for businesses to make money it would not be uncommon for the Red Cross to feel like “the little guy,” in this instance it may have been at the interest of one of their sponsors that the recovery effort in Haiti was as slow as it was. I think there are a lot of factors that go into non-profits that we just can’t understand. With the Red Cross, we are told that we see what we get but this could just be another case of corporate misdirection. There is probably an entire aspect of the business that is not communicated to the public. Unfortunately, it isn’t something that will come to light until we already know about it.

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    1. Overall, I agree that these accusations may be jumping the gun a wee bit, especially with the fact that NPR’s presence on the bandwagon added more weight to what might be a menial charge or misunderstanding – making the story to possibly appear all the more scandalous than what it may be. However, the fact that the Red Cross refused to make its records public as to how it’s spending the donations of thousands of caring individuals is alarming enough when the amount donated is $488 million. Their silence and non-compliance on the issue only casts them into a more suspicious light that I believe is the fuel upon which this fire burns in the media.


  2. I enjoyed reading your blog post Jacob. When I think of a typical profit-earning company, I understand that there might be some people within the organization that only want to raise profits without regard for the other stakeholders that it maintains. But for an organization such as Red Cross, you wouldn’t think that at the surface at all. I would imagine that Red Cross’ number one focus would be to supply aid in any capacity as it could, as often as it could. But as you dug deeper, you found that this wasn’t the case in this situation – and that damages that relationship and trust between the company and people outside the company who are donating for a specific purpose. If a charitable organization such as Red Cross deceives the general public, what organization out there can we really trust?

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  3. Good stuff. I haven’t researched it enough but in talking with you and Prof. Martin my gut tells me that transparency was their main issue here. The money could’ve been tied up in the bureaucracy of such a large non-profit, or earmarked for other things, or simply saved for things that they deem more in line with their mission and strengths, but not just saying that outright causes some serious distrust. It would be interesting as well to look at what Martin mentioned with how they had advertised their efforts (i.e. did they run “Donate to the Red Cross for disaster relief and home building in Haiti” ads and such).

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  4. I don’t think that anybody wants to think about the Red Cross being fraudulent. A non-profit company, that is the first place many people go in order to try and help the victims of a natural disaster, that hasn’t done its job properly. I would never think to look into the Red Cross because in my world they are ‘saintly’. Now every time that I donate money to the Red Cross I will wonder where exactly it will be going.

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  5. It is hard to expect US standards of record keeping in an already oppressed country like Haiti. So, in the wake of the massive disaster of the earthquake, some slack might be allowed for Red Cross. Now, if after several years, they can’t point to actual progress and outcomes, that seems more troubling.

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