The Power of the Human Spirit
Satellite view of Hurricane Harvey, August 25, 2017
Kerri Murray, the President of ShelterBox USA, based in Santa Barbara, was late to our recording session because she was on the phone all morning with FEMA. Her organization was one of the many NGO’s responding to Hurricane Harvey that was poised to hit the south Texas coast in hours. We gave her a pass and hope that people are as safe as they can be in this natural disaster.
Kerry has been at the helm of ShelterBox for just a few short years. She came to Santa Barbara to work at Direct Relief as part of a six-month deployment with her employer, Glaxo SmithKline. Their Pulse program matches employee skills with non-profit needs. In this case, her background in Marketing and Communications proved to be extremely useful. She fell in love with Santa Barbara, and when the opportunity came up with ShelterBox, she took it.
Kerri says that their relationship with the people they serve is typically on the worst day of their life when they’ve lost everything.
Kerri explained that there are over 85 million displaced people in the world at any given moment and of those, 60 million is as a result of a conflict. She explained in harrowing detail the challenges they have of providing shelter in war-torn Aleppo in Syria. Currently they provide approximately 150,000 boxes a year. Their Master Plan targets growth to 1,000,000 by 2025.
ShelterBox provided 1/3 of the housing during the 2010 Haitian earthquake and is directly involved with over 20 areas that need help around the world on any given day. See video at the end of this post.
Kerri explained how the network of volunteers, trained extensively, provide first responder services to provide shelter, to augment the food and water provided by other organizations.
The tactical logistics of responding to natural disasters and conflicts are intense, and you can tell that they’ve amassed a tremendous amount of expertise so that they can be one of the first on site immediately after a disaster. That’s what the FEMA call was about so that their pre positioned ShelterBoxes and other services could be deployed as soon as today (the day after Harvey touched the mainland.)
Kerri said that a big part of the success of the organization is due to the relationship they have with Rotary International. The team works in close collaboration with hundreds of partners, such as Virgin Airlines to get products into place so that they’re available at a moments notice.
Kerri has a compelling personal story that started when she was 6, working at her father’s fabric show in Connecticut. He worked seven days a week and would take her with him on Sunday mornings at 4 am to the Flea Market, where she learned how to talk with people and sell $1 toys. She saw first hand from her father how philanthropy was a very local-focused, community activity and has continued that throughout her life.
She had advice for non-profits that are looking to improve their marketing: focus on what makes you unique, and use stories that illustrate the impact you’re making in the community.