American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern hopes local donors keep Haiti on their minds

By Maria Saporta

Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, is concerned that as Haiti recedes from the headlines, charitable giving also will decline.

Since the devastating earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12, Americans contributed $285 million to Haiti relief efforts, including almost $40 million through text contributions.

“The last two weeks, it seems to be leveling off,” said McGovern, who was in Atlanta Wednesday to meet with Red Cross supporters and donors. “As Haiti receives less media attention, it worries me that the donations will wane as well.”

McGovern sat down for an interview at the American Red Cross facility on Monroe Drive at the end of a long day of events in Atlanta. She wanted to make sure people don’t forget about the needs that continue to exist in Haiti.

Even before the earthquake, McGovern said that 1.9 million Haitians were “food insecure.” Through the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations, McGovern said that most Haitians now have food and water.

But bigger longer term challenges remain. Haitians need shelter, particularly with the coming of the rainy season. The medical situation “continues to be problematic,” with a shortage of health care facilities and professionals.

And then there are structural problems — a country without a modern electricity and utility network, a country where clean water is at a premium, and a country that has suffered from tremendous deforestation.

McGovern said it’s been a “vicious downward cycle” as people have cut down trees for heat and to boil water because of a lack of utility infrastructure, and without trees and vegetation, Haiti will remain unstable and vulnerable to future natural catastrophes.

Haiti will require global assistance for years and years to reverse that cycle.

Still, McGovern wanted to come to Atlanta to make sure the Red Cross thanked Atlantans for their generosity.

“This trip was so energizing,” McGovern said. Wednesday morning, she received a check of $4.4 million that had been collected at Publix Supermarkets nationally, with nearly $900,000 of those funds being raised in metro Atlanta through WAGA FOX 5’s Careforce program.

McGovern said that Kroger’s supermarkets raised $700,000 in metro Atlanta. The American Red Cross also thanked the Coca-Cola Co. for its $1 million donation for Haiti relief efforts.

One of the big challenges in disasters like the Haitian earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Southeast Asia is coordinating all the efforts of the many charitable organizations to be as efficient as possible.

“I’m extremely in favor of collaborating together,” McGovern said. “I would love to live in a world where we are flawlessly coordinated. The United Nations has done a wonderful job in Haiti, and it’s now very coordinated.”

McGovern was named president and CEO of the American Red Cross on April 8, 2008. Previously, she held executive positions with AT&T and Fidelity Investments. She then joined the faculty of the Harvard Business School in June, 2002.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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