December 8, 2014

Innovating Disaster Relief: Sharon Fe Pfleider

Photo: Mirs Napoles Carel
I am always inspired by the humanity I find in people...especially, their selflessness for others who are in great need. This archetypal role model was ingrained in me by my parents at an early age. My mother and father were always helping others and giving of themselves...either through their nursing service...United Nursing Inc, organizing charity, cultural or church events...or bringing home a stray person for dinner who needed a helping hand.

I was taught to admire charity in others and have always seen it as a strength, not a weakness.

Professionally, I have tried to emulate this by taking on positions that somehow help others. Either by empowering the people or teams I am working with or somehow satisfying the needs of the customers they serve. If I ever stray from this, I inevitably run into a dissonance, which affects the passion I have for my work.

These days, I am involved with a start up called BigHuman, whose mission it is to tackle the real and difficult challenges of disaster relief and preparedness. Being part of this effort, I often ask myself, “How can I really make a difference in such a monumental challenge? How can I contribute?”

At this point, stories are what I have to offer...stories that I hope can inspire others to act.

The recent typhoon Hagupit in the Philippines reminded me of a friend of mine whose acts of selflessness and community giving must be shared. I believe her story can shed light on how we might approach natural disasters in the years to come...please share this post where appropriate.

So, let me tell you about a remarkable woman...someone with limited resources, no NGO support, no experience or connections with the philanthropic world. None the less, she made a difference...a big difference in the lives of many people in need. I hope her story will be a valuable contribution to a broader discussion on how the world prepares for the future natural disasters.

Meet Sharon Fe Pfleider, pictured above in the opening photo of this blog post. Sharon lives in Makati City, a thriving business and residential sector in Manila, Philippines.

Tragically, in November 2013, Sharon’s home village of Leyte was struck by the devastating forces of Typhoon Yolanda...where many of her family members still lived. Leyte is a small village on the Eastern Visayan island of Leyte of the same name.

Leyte was a beautiful village full of beautiful people. Everyone there loves and takes pride in their children, just as we all do.

Photo: Douglas Wills, Leyte Elementary School (before Yolanda)
Above, is the Leyte Elementary School to share what I hope is a glimpse of how beautiful and idyllic Leyte was.

I hope for people to see that Leyte and, by extension, the Philippines, is filled with loving intelligent people just like you and me. Nothing more and nothing less.

Photo: Douglas Wills, Leyte (before Yolanda)
Above, a Leyte street on a typically gorgeous day...the kids are on their way home after school.

Photo: Alex Ariza Dagandan

On November 7, 2013, Yolanda dropped a massive hammer on the beautiful life in Leyte...along with many others on the Eastern Visayan island of Leyte...over 10,000 people were killed...forever scarring the surviving children of this beautifully dangerously land.

Photo: Alex Ariza Dagandan
Above, the community Church of Leyte. You can view this beautiful church before Yolanda, here.

Photo: Sharon Pfleider

Above, what was left of Sharon’s sister Donna’s family home. I have no words...  :(

Photo: Sharon Pfleider

Above, the remnants of Sharon’s father’s home. How do you pick up the pieces of your life from this?

The aftermath of devastation in Tacloban, the largest city neighboring Leyte, was on a much larger scale, but keep in mind that there were many villages like Leyte scattered throughout the island that were hit just as hard. (see the Tindog Tacloban video below)

Courageously, Sharon made it her mission to respond…and employ the limited resources and capabilities within her grasp: her social network, her drive and her leadership skills. What she did was simply brilliant. Rather than wait for the usual NGO’s to come to the aid of her small village, Sharon reached out to the global diaspora of Leyte and others within her social network...

Sharon did not just solicit money for the purpose of forwarding it to an NGO...she instead decided to garner donations to procure and distribute the relief on her own....bypassing the traditional aid organizations and expediting the overall response effort.

Innovation at its finest...when people focus on how they can help others.

First, Sharon set up a Facebook Page, called Leyte-Leyte Tulong Operation (it is still need to be logged into Facebook to view it) and transparently laid out her plan for relief. Sharon did her best describing what was needed and how she would execute the relief plan. She then crowdsourced donations, leveraging PayPal and other payment services since donations would be pouring in from around the globe. Remember, Sharon is a Filipina with limited resources and no capital of her own...but she is very savvy and passionate.

Because Sharon reached out to her own social network...the donors where already familiar with donating was a more personal act than sending money to the Red Cross. Donors knew exactly how, when, and to whom their contributions would be deployed.

Each step of the way, Sharon transparently published the donors names and their donations on the Facebook page...along with her warm appreciation on behalf of the victims.

Photo: Sharon Pfleider
Sharon posted events, in my humble opinion, with professional grade photo journalism and candid commentary. Doing so, not only kept everyone informed, but it increased her credibility and trust within the "pop-up" relief community.

Photo: Sharon Pfleider

Needless to say, the supporters for Leyte-Leyte Tulong Operation grew and grew until there was an army.

Photo: Sharon Pfleider 

As soon as Sharon had enough donations, she procured the needed food, water and supplies. She even documented the staging process of the relief effort as she prepared for the distribution of supplies.

Sharon and others in the community also posted local news and the current progress of the relief efforts.

Photo: Sharon Pfleider
At every phase, the Leyte-Leyte Tulong Operation community could follow the progress and maintain communication with Sharon and others in the community.

Photo: Sharon Pfleider 
Then Sharon took the show on the road. Again, she documented in real time, the relief distribution through photo-journalistic entries on the Facebook page. We could all travel with her as she traversed to Leyte and help those in need.

Not only did Sharon continue to post relevant news and information, but the community was also able to express their emotion...

Remember, this is a human relief effort. The houses and structures were not what needed help, it was the people and their families that needed comfort.

Photo: Mirs Napoles Carel

Photo: Mirs Napoles Carel

Photo: Mirs Napoles Carel

Photo: Mirs Napoles Carel xxxxx

Photo: Mirs Napoles Carel
Here, Sharon is passing out food and supplies...she is the one on the back of the truck with the blue bag.

We should all learn from Sharon...that no matter who we think we little we think we have...or insignificant we think our position is...we can make a difference. We just have to give ourselves permission and leverage our God given talents and the tools we have at our disposal.

Photo: Elvira Mateo Pfleider, Sharon with her father

I believe empowering passionate and intelligent people to act by giving them the tools to develop compelling solutions is the key to unlocking the creativity and wisdom of the crowd. This is what future innovation efforts will be focused on, whether it is for disaster preparedness or any other human need...the solutions and people who can best solve our problems are in our midst...they are just not evenly distributed...society’s aim should be to connect to and empower them.

Well done, Sharon!

A note from Sharon
“Its only by God’s grace that I am able to do all those things. So, to God be the glory. I am not worthy of such accolade. It is through Him, and only in Him that I have this heart to help others.  Nonetheless, thank you very much.” — Sharon Fe Pfleider

An interesting side note

The White House recently held an “Innovation Demo” for Disaster Response on August 14, 2014. I hope they included lots of people who have endured a disaster and its aftermath. It’s too bad they did not invite Sharon...she would have been a show stopper...and added invaluable insights to the conversation...

Photo: DHS Science and Technology
The above photo is a brainstorming session aimed at how and where technology can improve disaster response and recovery. You can download the talking points and fact sheet from the White House workshop recap here.


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