Real and Rapid Re·dis·tri·bu·tion

How microeconomics and marketplace technologies could accelerate COVID-19 recovery

tinglee1631 / Shutterstock
tinglee1631 / Shutterstock

While the world has been captivated by COVID-19, in March alone, there were tornadoes in Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee; earthquakes in Idaho, Utah, Croatia; severe flooding in Yemen, Indonesia, India, Peru; landslides in Brazil. All have massively impacted lives but received little media attention and therefore little support.

A disaster within a disaster

Disaster recovery is often an inefficient and unjust experience that varies greatly for many people and communities depending on the extent of their needs for recovery and ability to access resources. Individuals and households are largely left on their own to work through a complex series of federal or nonprofit programs that do not adequately respond to their personal situation or enable them to acquire the recovery resources they need to achieve some form of stability.

Yet, there are millions of people who want to help others in need and billions of dollars that are pledged to help those in need recover. So why does recovery from disasters take on average 26 years?   

Seven months ago during Hurricane Dorian I wrote an article titled “After the Media Stops, the Unintended Consequences Do Not”, and the same challenge that faced those impacted by Dorian and natural disasters in general will be the same that are on the horizon with COVID-19.  “In most cases, there are actually enough supplies and services to support communities in need. The issue often lies in how these goods are distributed across the impacted ecosystem. For example, after Hurricane Dorian, the World Kitchen prepared more than 2 million meals across the Bahamas, but didn’t have enough drivers to deliver all those meals.”

Reclaiming redistribution

In most circles, redistribution is synonymous with income redistribution, which is an economic practice at leveling the distribution of wealth or income in a society through a direct or indirect transfer of income from the rich to the poor. But the formal definition of re·dis·tri·bu·tion is the distribution of something in a different way, typically to achieve greater social equality. As Rachel Botsman wrote in her recent piece on idling capacity, redistribution is effectively what we have started to embrace with the sharing economy: homes through AirBnB, cars with Uber and Turo, clothes via Rent The Runway, spaces with WeWork, talent through Task Rabbit and so forth. During disasters, this concept is more prevalent when brands offer access to services to help others be it free texting, new educational programs or waived delivery fees. And we can follow this concept one step further, expanding on eBay’s original idea, to a marketplace that is needs-based. A marketplace that verifies that someone has a need and should be entitled to that need. A simple, modern marketplace that connects impacted individuals with brands and donors ready to fulfill verified needs through technology with no intermediary.

Years ago this would have just been an idea. In today’s digital world, it is realized as Everest Effect: a vibrant online platform using needs verification models to distribute generosity and resources with great efficiency and economic viability. Initially, our sights were set on accelerating recovery after natural disasters but COVID-19 has expanded our purview to include humanitarian health disasters as well given the similar societal impact characteristics. 

The gap in the current distribution chain

COVID-19 is a perfect example of the gap between real resources and real people and the opportunity to create a real-time redistribution system. We’ve seen hand sanitizer being hoarded; ventilators flying across the country; hotels blocking rooms for healthcare workers; incredible and unnecessary panic over toilet paper.   

Did you know that while the U.S. government has approved two trillion dollars in a recovery package that almost five billion dollars more has been pledged by the private sector to combat the impact of COVID-19? On the other hand, did you know that during a disaster over 60% of donated goods go to waste and that money raised during one disaster actually goes to solve for another because the policy and process impedes timely progress?  

Crisis brings our communities and societies together, and there is incredible generosity and good intentions to help others in need. What is truly disastrous is when those good intentions aren’t realized, not because of money, not for lack of desire, but because of a redistribution challenge. The base of microeconomics: supply and demand.  

A new intersection for human kindness

At its core, redistribution is not about wealth it is about supply and demand. And want and needs. We can think of this as economic evolution that requires cooperation and kindness.

Imagine if we lived in a world where we could choose what we want to consume daily, and if it was too much for whatever reason we could give it back. And vis versa, if you or your household didn’t have enough you could easily seek and find a way to access more. We could redistribute big things like income and healthcare to people in need but also smaller goods like excess toothbrushes and disinfecting wipes that could make a major difference to someone’s sense of security. Why does it have to be income versus things? Why can’t we each control the distribution chain? With technology, information and collaboration, we can.  

About Everest Effect

I am chairman of Everest Effect, a platform founded last year to help accelerate disaster recovery and to overcome ineffective policies and inefficient processes that impede progress towards redistribution. Join us and our climb toward solving for pragmatic, effective applications of generosity at scale.  Help us stabilize our supply and demand curve as a way to better sustain each other when unfortunate yet inevitable disaster strikes.   

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