Sara Rossi: Jottings from WorldAffairs 2010

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Thumbnail image for WorldAffairs_Logo.gifHi all!  It’s me, former intern Sara R., back from a year-and-a-half hiatus from My Wonderful World blogging.  It’s lovely to be back!  Since leaving my post at MWW, I graduated cum laude from UCLA with a degree in communications and global studies and moved to San Francisco, where I’ve been working in healthcare consulting since September ’09.

Last week I attended WorldAffairs 2010, the World Affairs Council’s annual conference, held right in the heart of San Francisco.  The theme of this year’s conference was Innovative Leadership in the Face of Crises, an especially apropos focus in light of the devastating natural disasters of the past two months.  The conference brings together civic leaders, entrepreneurs, policymakers, academics, business executives, analysts, and students for two days of discussions on the most pressing international issues of the day.  I was lucky to be a part of it and I’m happy to share my experiences with you all!


Haiti was the subject of the keynote speech by Senior Vice
President of Habitat for Humanity Elizabeth Blake.  She addressed the
complexity and severity of the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, and how
Habitat for Humanity is working to rebuild communities and help
Haitians gain self-sufficiency and stability in the process.

The estimated death toll from the magnitude 7.0 earthquake was over 230,000 people.  However, that number is just an estimate, because Haiti has no civil registry or census to measure the exact population.  Nearly 300,000 homes were destroyed in the original quake or its aftershocks, leading desperate families to seek temporary shelter under makeshift tents.  Aid continues to flow into the country, but the medical situation remains particularly dire.  It seems Haiti is mired by a perfect storm of risk factors: poverty, geography, climate, vulnerability to disease, and lack of infrastructure, all of which made the disaster exceptionally catastrophic.

However, the news is not all doom and gloom.  Times of crisis can remind us of our common humanity and inspire true generosity.  The latest estimates show over half of American households have donated to Haiti, with total individual contributions exceeding $1 billion.  Pretty astounding figures!  Habitat for Humanity is particularly dedicated to providing disaster relief in Haiti.  They’ve committed $150 million to a plan that will help 25% of the families worst affected by the earthquake.

The plan has three main steps:

  1. Relief: Distribute emergency shelter kits with tarps to improve immediate living conditions.
  2. Rehabilitation: Replace destroyed homes with transitional shelters that can be made into permanent homes over time.
  3. Reconstruction: As soon as conditions on the ground realistically allow, Habitat will build core houses: small, earthquake-resistant, permanent structures that provide adequate living space and sanitation facilities for the average Haitian family of five. Core houses are designed with the possibility for the homeowner to add on to the structure, expanding its square footage in the future.

Habitat for Humanity employs Haitians on their projects, giving them the opportunity to build up their own communities, and paying them for their efforts.  Hats off to Habitat for Humanity for their dedication to helping Haitians get their feet on the ground.

I’ll be back with more updates from the conference soon!  Other events include a panel on the status of climate change legislation, as well as fascinating talks by Matt Flannery, founder and CEO of Kiva, and Matt Wood, founder and CEO of Room to Read.

This is the first year the World Affairs Council is streaming the entire conference on their website. Tune in to engage in dialogue about topics such as the global economy, international development, and global security.

Sara Rossi

Image courtesy World Affairs Council of Northern California

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