Major corporations have an essential role to play when natural disasters hit, in both direct relief efforts and over the longer term. As the tail end of Hurricane Harvey continues to batter an increasingly desperate Houston area, it’s worth remembering how much good big business can do in times of strife.
Last week, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon announced a $25 million donation to support global disaster relief, in advance of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. “Hurricane Katrina touched our customers, communities we serve, and our associates in a profound way,” he said an Instagram video posted on his personal account.
McMillon is not overstating the matter. After Katrina hit, the company found ways to step in when FEMA and other agencies failed.
A look back at Fortune’s archives tells the tale. I vividly remember when reporting for this story, which was written by former staffer Devin Leonard, hit the newsroom. The opening anecdote stars Jessica Lewis, the co-manager of a Walmart in the Gulf Coast resort town of Waveland, Miss. The entire 7,000 person town was in shreds:
Her instincts turned out to be right, though the full story is complex. For a deeper assessment of Walmart’s rapid-fire decision making during and after the storm, you can order the Harvard Business Review’s case study here — it’s $8.95 and worth the investment. For more on McMillon’s current leadership insights, check out Brian O’Keefe’s recent profile, “The Man Who’s Reinventing Walmart.”
Ten years after Katrina, as Texas faces a natural disaster of similarly epic proportions, I expect that businesses will take the lead again.
This prediction is already coming to pass. As Fortune’s Chris Morris reports, companies like Amazon, Google, Home Depot and Starbucks have stepped up with direct cash infusions to relief organizations. In some cases, they are matching employee donations.
Going forward, I believe we’ll see more companies, agencies, and constituencies that don’t typically work together join forces to collaborate on relief efforts. Sure, caring about customers, communities, and employees is good business. But I predict that in this and future disasters, for-profit institutions will increasingly show us they are ready to step up and provide vital expertise and leadership in the face of true suffering.
Let’s keep each other posted on this.
|Introducing a new Term Sheet|
|The great Polina Marinova is now producing Term Sheet, the daily dispatch on behind-the-scenes deal-making and venture activity. She is following in the monumental footsteps of Dan Primack and Erin Griffith, but is promising to bring her own fresh take. “Term Sheet will continue to skew toward venture, startup, and tech deals, but it will have my voice, my opinions, and more than a few of my sarcastic comments weaved throughout,” she says. Polina edited raceAhead for a spell, so I can attest to her talent, judgment, heart, and love of hip hop. The also great Lucinda Shen compiles the IPO news; feel free to send tips, ideas and deal announcements to Polina here and IPO news to Lucinda here. Click below to subscribe.|
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|Study: Race and disparities of care in neonatal units|
|The Stanford University School of Medicine has published a new study that shows that white and Asian infants receive the highest quality treatment in intensive care units designed for newborns. The study looked at 90% of the NICU facilities in California and analyzed the care received by some 19,000 babies from 2010-2014. The trends showed that African American, Hispanic and “other” infants (including Native American and Alaska Native infants) scored lower in treatment and outcomes. While the disparities varied in some cases, African American and Latinx babies were more likely to be cared for at lower quality units, and less likely to get essential interventions such as an eye exam or human breast milk upon discharge from the hospital.|
|San Francisco Chronicle|
|Uber invests in the pipeline via Girls Who Code|
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The Woke Leader
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|As the terrible stories and images from Houston continue to emerge, this look-back from the Houston Chronicle recounts how dangerous evacuations ahead of major storms can be. The article surveys the deaths and misery in the wake of the Hurricane Rita evacuation in 2005. More than 107 people died, many from accidents or while stuck in traffic stalls that lasted for some up to 20 hours. “People are downplaying the fact that people died in the evacuation and that is not right,” State Rep. Garnet Coleman told the paper back in the day. “Is the chance of dying greater in the movement than in the storm? That’s the question we need to consider.”|
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