What Haiti and the Grenfell Disaster Have in Common: Effective Altruism at its Best

Dear Readers,

This is something that has been on my mind for a while and this is the foundation that Cafe Zest and Fresh will be based upon. I hope you enjoy a change of topic.

Much love,

Katie Smiles,

CEO Zest and Fresh

p.s Thanks to a dear friend Alexandra for helping me edit this piece of work! You are a total gem! xx

effective aultrism 2

Situation 1:

You have £500,000.  An earthquake has struck a country over 4000 miles away and is widely covered in the press. This is one of the poorest countries in the world with just over 58% of the population living in poverty. People are homeless, dysentery is rife and healthcare supplies, food and water are critically low. It is suspected that there will be a high death rate. Also, most major import routes have been destroyed… which problem do you solve first?

Situation 2:

You have £500,000.  A high-rise building has caught fire 20 miles from where you live. Similarly, people are homeless, food and water supplies are critically low, and it is expected that the death rate will be high as the fire has spread quickly. Great Britain is amongst the richest countries in the world, and yet the disaster breaks out in one of the most deprived areas of London. Although they should be, most of the furnishings and appliances in this block (sofas, fridges) are not fire resistant. However, the people living there cannot afford anything else…. which problem do you solve first?

Situation 1: The Dream

You give your whole £500,000 to a charity who help with disaster relief. The charity promises to dedicate every penny to the cause. You have seen the news coverage and looked at their website, and are absolutely convinced they will do the job. The charity sends out lots of medical supplies, along with various aid workers, and somehow — within weeks — the whole sewerage system and water supply is restored. Haiti’s population have a permanent home and harmony is restored. Your £500,000 has almost created world peace!

Situation 1: The Reality

You donate your whole £500,000, and yet the cause does not see a penny of it.

In addition to this, a cholera infection sweeps across the whole country — most likely caused by dysentery (although this theory is debatable). It is also stated that:

The Red Cross…is accused of building only six homes in Haiti with nearly half a billion dollars in donated funds, and spending millions on internal expenses. (Elliott, 2015) [https://www.propublica.org/article/how-the-red-cross-raised-half-a-billion-dollars-for-haiti-and-built-6-homes]

So where does the ‘extra’ money go? While everyone wants to help the cause, they do not necessarily think about the logistics. For example, getting the medical supplies to a country with absolutely no airport, or a country where the ports have been destroyed, or where the roads are just a crumbled mess. Think of those cards you get at Christmas proclaiming that you ‘donated a goat’. This is effective altruism. Why? Think of the resources that were needed to donate the goat. Where was it bought? How does the charity make sure that it is a sustainable venture? (A post coming soon!) What size team and skills would a charity need to ensure that this venture happens? And, even if it did happen, how do you make the most of the money you’ve been allocated? This is effective altruism — making the most of the money you have with the resources you’ve got.

However, I see I have digressed a little. So, what’s the situation in Haiti today? Well, change doesn’t happen overnight…

‘Some global development analysts say that the spending structure — with the vast majority of money being funneled through foreign contractors instead of the Haitian government or local outfits — has built-in inefficiencies, compounded by a lack of accountability and transparency’ (NBC news).

Essentially, the system was corrupt. The mass of donations that came in far outweighed the existing support structure, exacerbated by the actions of an unscrupulous government. Consequently, 7 years on, this is the current situation in Haiti:

‘There are still about 55,000 people in camps and makeshift camps…many are still living in unsanitary conditions due to displacement caused by the earthquake. We have a very long way to go.’ (Wahba)

Situation 2: The Dream

You give your £500,000 to the homeless, helpless and those in need. This provides clothing, food and essential supplies for everybody. All are rehomed in a matter of days. Your money has solved the problem — hooray for millionaires!

Situation 2: The Reality

You give your £500,000, but the amount of ‘good’ it does —  in terms of helping the actual cause — is questionable. So much aid was donated that warehouses were overfilled with ‘help’, and yet there was no truly effective system to manage it (and in some cases store it). So, surely, your money would have been more effective if it was put towards setting up a strategic system to manage the distribution of aid?

Drawing Parallels

In both situations, while your money did help to some extent, it did not address the root cause of the problem. I guess you could call it a superficial ‘plaster of goodwill’, right? (Would love to know your thoughts in the comments box below on this!)

As I’ve just discussed, the Grenfell Disaster had strategic problems, but so did Haiti. In both cases, the donations did go some way towards helping displaced people, yet the essential physical aid was accompanied by strategic problems. For Haiti, it was the question of getting the aid to where it needed to be. For Grenfell, it was a case of finding a system that had an effective method of both storing and dealing with all the donations that came flooding in, and one that distributed resources efficiently. In an ideal situation, the people donating money would have considered these factors first:

  • IMPORTANCE – Will the cause assist the most amount of people and improve their life?
  • NEGLIGENCE – Is there an unexplored avenue that other people have not considered? E.g., logistics of storage, legal aid for people, possible rental of extra storage?
  • TRACTABLE – Is there something practical an individual could do that will help ensure a successful effort?

While this may sound like something from a government born agency, there is a point to it.  Altruism really is only effective when people employ logical and rational thought together with a degree of practicality when developing a strategy, in order to create an effective cause.

Altrusim is only truly effective when these factors are decided. Otherwise, your ‘help’ is useless.

Happy Beautiful day,

Katie Smiles,

CEO Zest and Fresh.


Below are some fun activities that I’ve found to find out how rich you are compared to the rest of the world, as well as some charities that practice what is discussed in this article. How much could you be donating today?

How rich am I in the global population?


Which charities make the most of the money donated?


2 thoughts on “What Haiti and the Grenfell Disaster Have in Common: Effective Altruism at its Best

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