How to Survive a Disaster, Part 4: In a crisis, you learn what business you’re in

This is the fourth part of a series by Abraham Leno, our executive director, called “How to Survive a Disaster.”

Read the rest:

  1. Lessons from eastern Congo
  2. Disaster is a part of life, and you are not alone
  3. Survival builds expertise
  4. In a crisis, you learn what business you’re in
  5. Be powerful when you can
  6. Humanity matters more than anything
  7. You can still have joy

Asili, ECI’s social enterprise platform, provides clean water and primary medical care to about 100,000 people a year. These water points and clinics get off the ground thanks to philanthropic investment, since basic infrastructure is costly to build. But after starting up, Asili water points and clinics run as self-sustaining businesses, providing world-class services their communities need, at prices their communities can truly afford. They are not temporary aid stations, but profitable businesses with customers — customers who demand and deserve the best possible quality and service for their money. 

As the coronavirus pandemic bore down on the places where we work — and as the prices of staple goods like flour and cooking oil rose by over three times in our neighborhood — it would have been good business to raise the prices we charge for water and health care. But to do so would have cut off the only supply of clean water and quality medical care for the 100,000 people we serve every day. 

In a crisis that requires handwashing, clean water is indispensable. In a crisis that demands quarantine and medical treatment, clinics and clinicians are indispensable. If our businesses were to survive to serve our communities after the pandemic, we had to serve our communities during it — cost what it might. 

In America, some businesses — even healthcare companies — are laying off or furloughing workers to preserve value for shareholders. Other businesses are going to great lengths to care for their employees and their communities. These are choices, and people make them.

If you are in the position to make choices about whom to help during this disaster, be aware of what you are doing. How you use the power you have right now will clarify what business you are in. 

Power, in fact, is what I will talk about next time. 

Photo: Asili water customers read about how to prevent COVID-19 in April 2020. Photo courtesy of Mama Salomé Byenda.

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