Disaster Preparedness and the Power of Local Leadership

By Saveetha Meganathan, Manager of Disaster Programs

“It was a huge wave. They are calling it a tsunami. I have never seen anything like this before in my lifetime. My entire village got swept away. I got saved as I had gone to town.” I remember these words of a 65-year-old fisherman in a coastal village of Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, post-2004 tsunami. I witnessed many more tragic stories as a relief volunteer, quite helpless but mustering courage to comfort the survivors.

Disasters hit hard, usually taking us by surprise and bringing everything to a stop, especially if one is not prepared for it. So, what is disaster preparedness? Disaster preparedness is defined by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) as “the measures taken to prepare for and reduce the effects of disasters. That is, to predict and where possible, prevent disasters, mitigate their impact on vulnerable populations, and to respond to and effectively cope with their consequences”.

Disaster philanthropy in Asia and many other parts of the world has predominantly supported relief and recovery activities. Yet in the recent past one can see the significance of investing in disaster preparedness and risk reduction programs that can save more lives, mitigate the severity of any hazards, and help communities to achieve long-term resilience. For example, in Eastern India when cyclone Phailin hit the coasts of Odisha at the rate 200 kmph in 2013, about 700,000 people were evacuated. Similarly, the Philippines and other South East Asian countries are prone to typhoons and floods and the local community-based organizations (CBOs) in these countries have played a significant role in promoting disaster preparedness and increasing community resilience.

Asia is the most disaster prone region in the world and a significant strategy in disaster philanthropy would be to invest directly in supporting CBOs across Asia towards disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction. This will save lives and resources and help the communities to become more resilient. It is necessary to recognize the power of local communities to effectively prepare for disasters from a bottom-up approach in planning and policy making activities of the national governments and global governance institutions. Supporting and incubating innovations of local CBOs such as early warning systems during floods and typhoons, investing in disaster preparedness strategies such as education campaigns on disasters, capacity building on emergency evacuation planning and also sustainable livelihood planning for disaster prone regions can prove to be very impactful and gain resilience for the communities.

It is also important to take into account that both the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have emphasized on the need for concerted efforts in the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) segment. The SDGs’ recommendation of sustainable development practices can reduce the impact of anthropogenic climate change that causes extreme weather conditions leading to disasters. Perhaps, disaster philanthropy should evolve towards investing resources in addressing the impact of climate change on the environment by supporting sustainable development practices of local CBOs. Strategies to inform private disaster philanthropy to invest in disaster risk reduction and preparedness has gained importance as it is synergistic towards sustainable development practices, especially in the context of resource-poor and vulnerable communities.

In 2014, Give2Asia and the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) launched the NGO Disaster Preparedness Program, building on Give2Asia’s experience in engaging donors in support of locally-led disaster recovery efforts and IIRR’s work directly with the rural poor who disproportionally suffer the impact of disasters in Asia. This program has garnered immense mileage in terms of incubating innovation within CBOs who are mostly the first responders of any disaster and also play a key role in relief, recovery and future preparedness programs.

This March, Give2Asia and IIRR will host ‘Disaster Preparedness and the Power of Local Leadership,’ an international conference to facilitate a vibrant conversation between CBOs and the philanthropic community by sharing knowledge and the best practices of some of the most at-risk local communities. The event will also feature national, regional and community-based leaders who will discuss the challenges for making real impact at the grassroots level. Since disaster preparedness is the cornerstone for mitigating future disasters, this conference will bring together the synergies of the philanthropic community and the local knowledge of CBOs through an open dialogue and also widen the scope for a knowledge-sharing platform in this realm.

Saveetha Meganathan has recently submitted her PhD in Medical Anthropology to the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She has eight years of field experience in the development sector and has predominantly worked with the tribal communities in central India on the issues of access to public health system, maternal and child health, nutrition security and bioethics. She presently serves as the Manager of the Disaster Programs at Give2Asia.

Welcoming Give2Asia's New Board Members

Give2Asia is excited to introduce our three new board members: Yiwen Li, Kyung H. Yoon, and Freda Lam Zietlow.  We invite you to learn more about the people who shape Give2Asia with their educated guidance, expert insight, and wealth of experiences by reading below! 

Yiwen Li is currently the Director for Global Strategy and Business Development at NantHealth, a NASDAQ listed healthcare and biotech company aiming at transforming healthcare and defeating cancer. Mrs. Li is responsible for the strategy and execution of establishing strategic partnerships outside the US, including Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and Middle East. She has over eight years’ experience in investment analysis and international business development. Prior to NantHealth, Mrs. Li worked at Capital Group Companies, one of the world’s largest investment management companies with US$1.3 trillion under management. Learn more about Yiwen here.

Kyung H. Yoon is CEO and Founder of Talent Age Associates based in Silicon Valley, providing creative talent strategies for Fortune 500, multinational corporations, and mid-cap/venture backed companies in the technology, fashion, consumer, lifestyle and financial industries.  Kyung is regularly engaged as a corporate director, advisor, executive search and organizational consultant, bringing creativity, global vision and innovative, value-added solutions to her clients around the world who are facing disruptions from technology innovations and globalization. Learn more about Kyung here.

Freda Lam Zietlow is a Director of Bingham Osborn & Scarborough (BOS), a private investment and wealth management firm with over $3.5 billion under management, serving individuals, families, endowments and foundations. She brings extensive investment expertise, covering public and private securities. Freda also oversees the firm's portfolio management team and heads its socially responsible and impact investment research. Prior to joining BOS, Freda was a Vice President of Fremont Realty Capital, responsible for over $1.0 billion of real estate private equity and debt investments. Learn more about Freda here.


We are featuring brand new projects in need of funding that give everyone an opportunity to support and help make positive change in the communities involved. Read more about these projects and click on the project title to learn how you can show your support.



This project will allow India HIV/AIDS Alliance to establish a new Care and Support Center exclusively for women and children living with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS. Donations to this project will also help fund the Center's operations for a year as it provides vital services including treatment education, specialist counseling, legal aid, vocational training, assistance in obtaining governmental social welfare benefits, and anti-retroviral medicine distribution.




This three year project will allow the Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS) to establish a Mangrove Learning Centre in the Sundarban Mangrove Coastal Region of Bangladesh, and deliver a curriculum to those wishing to learn more about the essential role that mangroves play in the local eco-system. This project will fund the Centre's construction, including a training facility, museum, accommodation and dining facilities for visitors and students, and offer educational courses on mangroves and climate change. This project will involve the Japan Environmental Education Forum (JEEF) as an implementing partner.




The Karen Hilltribes Trust will partner with local communities to construct a durable dam and irrigation system to provide a reliable, year-round water supply for 3 - 4 Karen villages of approximately 350 each in northwest Thailand. This system will help the Karen people moderate their water supply even when facing unpredictable weather patterns due to climate change, allowing them to increase their food security and diversify into cash crops.

For more projects which are currently in need of funding, browse our other posts:

  • Our first feature presents Accessible Toilets for Needy People (India); 1001fontaines Water Kiosks (Cambodia); and Scholarships for Indigenous Youths (Philippines). 
  • Our second feature presents One University Scholarship for a Myanmar Undergraduate (Myanmar); Bio Discovery Center Building (India); and the Inculcating Civic and Social Consciousness Among Youth (Sri Lanka). 
  • Our third feature presents Ponds for Organic Farms (Cambodia); Producing Documentary Films on Indigenous and Other Local Cultural Knowledge (Philippines); and Educational Support for Children with Disabilities (India). 
  • Our fourth feature presents Thlat Primary School Building (Cambodia) and Youth Empowerment and Social Transformation (India).
  • Our fifth feature presents Transforming Community Health for the Karen Hilltribes (Thailand); Residential Care for Women with Disabilities (India); and Patient Care Management at the Thazin Orchid Clinic (Myanmar)
  • Our sixth feature presents Children's Medical Fund (Myanmar); Enhancing Employability among Indian Youths Living with HIV (India); and Culture and Arts Library for Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge (Philippines)
  • Our seventh feature presents Improving Working Conditions for Waste Pickers (Bangladesh); Making Medicines Available at an Affordable Price (India); and Karen States Education Assistance Group (Myanmar)