Damage from the 2021 haiti earthquake. photo: USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance , Public Domain
Damage from the 2021 haiti earthquake. photo: USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance , Public Domain

When a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, philanthropy sprang to action to help a million displaced citizens rebuild in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A charity telethon featured the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen, and stars like Julia Roberts and Jon Stewart fronted the phone banks to raise funds for seven organizations.

Fast-forward a decade to August 2021. This time, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake took the lives of more than 2,200 Haitians and destroyed close to 53,000 homes. A half-million Haitian children were left with limited or no access to shelter, safe water, healthcare and nutrition.

But the world is a different place than it was 10 years ago, with donors facing a devastating array of disasters of varying magnitudes.

Naturally, countering a global pandemic has superseded all other funding priorities, and changed the lens through which they’re viewed. Disaster relief funds are spread wafer-thin, and donor attention is relentlessly eclipsed by new developments. Response efforts in Haiti must contend with compounding challenges, including the fact that only a quarter of a percent of its citizens have received even one dose of the vaccine. It’s also been only two months since Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home, leaving a leadership vacuum that makes sustainable recovery all the more difficult.

The response to the 2010 earthquake also looms large in giving decisions. Not all of the relief efforts worked as intended, and some no longer exist. The American Red Cross raised almost a half-billion dollars, but years later, an NPR and ProPublica investigation sharply criticized the organization’s impact and handling of the funds (the Red Cross disputes the reporting). The Yele Haiti Foundation, established by the Haitian-American hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean, closed in 2012 amid claims of mishandling the $16 million it raised. And while the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund united leaders from opposing parties to raise a hefty $54.4 million, it concluded formal operations at the end of 2012. In the aftermath of the recent earthquake, nonprofit leaders and people on the ground are stressing the importance of understanding the place and people donors are seeking to help.

Nevertheless, as many turn to providing relief for the latest natural disaster, they’re often building on roots they put down in the past. The actor Sean Penn created a Haitian-led relief organization now known as the Community Organized Relief Effort, or CORE, that’s still on the ground. Since 2010, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) has invested $107 million in a long-term engagement in central and southern Haiti. And a 2010 humanitarian visit by Bob Parson, founder of GoDaddy and PXG, led to a longstanding relationship, yielding nearly $12 million in support over time.

New funders are also engaging, like LEGO, which works to support children, and the Rockefeller Foundation, which sees supporting Haiti as a simple matter of value alignment.

Here’s more on the work of the organizations that have stayed the course, and two that stepped up in extraordinary times:

Boots on the ground

The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation has been working in Haiti for almost a decade through a partnership with Hope for Haiti, an organization that works to reduce in-country poverty through five program areas: education, healthcare, infrastructure, economic opportunity and access to clean water.

Renee Parsons said the organization was chosen for its local knowledge, efficient use of resources, and a “boots-on-the-ground” approach that may have appealed to a foundation that funds veterans programs. Bob Parsons served in Vietnam for the U.S. Marine Corps.

The foundation’s total $11.6 million in support began with disaster relief funding in 2012, the year the foundation opened its doors. A humanitarian visit following the devastation of 2010 resulted in an on-the-spot commitment of $2.5 million over five years to boost rural schools. It also spurred a partnership with GoDaddy, the company Bob Parsons then led, through a “round-up for charity program” that captured the difference between customer purchases and the nearest dollar.

Another visit marking five years resulted in a $3.5 million investment in Hope for Haiti’s mission and sustainable communities model. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew drew an additional $250,000 response. And on the 10-year anniversary of the earthquake, the foundation committed slightly more than $3 million to the Haitian Solidarity Campaign, which recognized the country’s resilience with support for essential healthcare services like medication and dental care.

In August, the foundation launched a $5 million appeal for immediate and long-term disaster relief efforts with a $1 million commitment of its own. Goals include helping its partner distribute 15,000 home water filtration systems, providing 50,000 health consultations, and meeting the urgent needs of more than 38 government, NGO and private medical providers.

Bob Parsons also encouraged others to step up: “In the aftermath of this recent earthquake, Haiti is facing an extreme crisis with countless injuries and damage to homes, schools, and important infrastructure,” while praising his partner. “Hope for Haiti has been quick to respond, with boots on the ground, offering the Haitian people the support they desperately need.”


The actor Sean Penn is another funder who came and stayed. Penn landed in Haiti just days after the 2010 earthquake and quickly founded the relief organization that’s become CORE, short for the Community Organized Relief Effort. To his credit, his attention has never wavered, and his decade of activism and fundraising has resulted in a force for good for Haiti, and the field of international disaster relief. Beyond its work in Haiti, CORE works globally in emergency relief and disaster preparedness, environmental resilience and community building.

Margarett Lubin, CORE’s country director in Haiti, said that when the earthquake struck in August, CORE was already on the ground in the south, conducting its signature programming. What began in 2010 as a medical mission for a camp of 60,000 displaced Haitians has expanded over the years to projects in education, healthcare networks and urban renewal.

Lubin said local staff and collaborations allowed it to pivot to help quickly. “We are one of the rare organizations on the ground that is Haitian-led, which enables us to connect better and faster in sustainable ways,” she said. CORE also used its wide collaborative networks with central actors like mayors and public ministries to identify people in need and avoid duplicate efforts.

Lubin said that on day one, CORE staff conducted assessments and used its own funding to quickly establish a mobile clinic for immediate medical needs. It also provided equipment to clear rubble as part of a partnership with the Ministry of Public Works. And CORE is “just now finalizing a proposal to start WASH facilities as early as next week,” part of its ongoing water sanitation, education and communications work.

CORE expects to switch from rescue to recovery in two weeks, as rubble removal concludes in the south. That means a recommitment to the ideals of “building back better” championed nationally in 2010. For example, Lubin said that for a full recovery, some of the 424 schools damaged will need to be demolished and rebuilt with materials that can withstand quakes.

Then there’s the problem of COVID. An organization that began its work within a refugee camp is familiar with the risks posed by displaced people living in large groups and central camp areas, and is partnering with the government to implement intervention strategies.

CORE was already working with the Ministry of Health to provide nurses and vaccines, and to address a high degree of vaccine hesitancy. Lubin says “misinformation was tough enough” before, and that now, with the earthquake, “you may see one or two people with masks.” Funding is needed to change behaviors and target widespread misconceptions.

Toward that end, CORE’s never stopped fundraising while conducting relief work, and plans to further engage individual, foundation and past private donors from its headquarters in L.A. Since August, it’s already brought in $1.5 million.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation 

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation invested in Haiti long before 2010, but only made it one of its six priority funding regions after responding to the earthquake.

The foundation has invested $107 million in Haiti to date within its overarching goals of transforming the lives of vulnerable children. WKKF focuses geographically in the center and southwest of the country, and programmatically on early childhood education, family economic security and health equity—all in concert with the ideas of community engagement, support for leadership development and racial equity.

A member of the WKKF Haiti team said that while the foundation does not typically fund emergency response, the alliances built during the course of its work with grantees are helping them support one another, respond quickly and effectively to this and all disasters, meet humanitarian needs, and help rebuild infrastructure.

On the nutritional end, for example, Kellogg grantees like FOKAL and Haiti Development Institute (HDI) are channeling funds to local grassroots agricultural organizations. The Haitian Christian Development Fund’s Jubilee Farms is sending a “couple of tons of corn and beans,” and KORE is working with the Haiti Local Food Systems Alliance and other grantees to provide transport for donated food.

As far as grantmaking specifically to the 2021 earthquake, the foundation is still finalizing a long-term strategic response.

Then there are the new players:

Helping the children

The LEGO Foundation, which is well-known for its work providing creative educational programming for children, joined KIRKBI, co-owners of the LEGO Group, to help the vulnerable children of two crises: the natural disaster in Haiti and the political crisis in Afghanistan.

Support totaled 100 million Danish kroner, or the equivalent of nearly $16 million USD. Seventy percent of funding came through the LEGO Foundation; the other 30% came from KIRKBI.

The LEGO Foundation considers working in coalition with others to be important, especially in crises, and tapped three partners to roll out support. Roughly $5 million will go to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHRC). Three million is earmarked for UNICEF, the U.N. global aid agency focused specifically on children. And nearly $6 million will boost LEGO’s partnership with Education Cannot Wait (ECW), which creates school structures for children in the throes of humanitarian crises. The remaining $2 million will “be distributed in due course as needs emerge.” The geographical split has been left to each partner to decide.

John Goodwin, CEO of the LEGO Foundation, said, “These grants are an important part of our ongoing commitment to supporting children affected by crises. We know that by giving attention to young children and their continued access to learning in crisis settings, especially their early stimulation needs, we can make a big positive difference to them immediately and in the long term.”

The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is also responding to the twin crises. Dr. Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, issued a statement of support for the people of both countries in these “dark and dangerous days,” which characterized the response as a matter of alignment with the foundation’s values.

While needs in Haiti are still being assessed, the foundation expects to be working in the areas of water production, food distribution and shelter procurement—and to reach decisions soon. Managing Director Ashley Chang reports that RF is currently in the process of collaborating with several organizations that are on the ground right now and mobilizing a response.

Other support

At the state level, the U.N. is leading the international community’s response with a $187 million appeal to support emergency interventions and early recovery efforts.

That’s in addition to work that’s already underway with organizations like the Caris Foundation, which partnered with the Catholic Medical Mission Board to implement Project Santé through a 2017 cooperative agreement with USAID that pledged to provide $100 million in integrated maternal and child healthcare services through 2021.

A number of corporations have also stepped up.

Skechers, the footwear and apparel company, committed $1 million to three charitable organizations: CORE, Hope for Haiti and World Central Kitchen, and issued a Million Dollar Challenge to its community that has already garnered support from employees, licensees and brand ambassadors like Howie Long.

And financial services firms continue to lead during natural disasters. JPMorgan Chase is supporting immediate and longer-term relief efforts with a $400,000 contribution to Ayiti Community Trust, CORE, World Central Kitchen and the World Institute on Disability. Citi Foundation pledged $250,000 for immediate support through UNICEF USA, and opened donations to employees. And Morgan Stanley stepped up with a $1 million contribution to the American Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development Fund, which specially funds short-term emergency relief.

Funds have also been created at a range of nonprofits, including the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services.

Responding to the question of donor fatigue—and Haiti’s many layered challenges—CORE’s Margarett Lubin said there’s no time for donors and journalists to get tired. “I think we’ve come to realize the world has become a community… that’s how we’ll stand up and become resilient.”