- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2005

The killer tsunami, hurricanes and earthquakes of the past year have prompted aid from U.S. companies, which increasingly are reaching out to donate money and supplies and provide expertise, training and services.

Awash in cash as a result of the high-flying economy, corporations and executives’ private foundations can respond faster, helped by the overseas presence of many U.S. businesses that often see an opportunity to advance their strategic interests.

The devastating Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004, triggered the largest corporate aid effort for an international disaster and is second only to the $750 million collected after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Humanitarian relief specialists say the new shifts in philanthropy reflect the reality of a smaller world, in which globalization, better communications and large-scale migration are cooperating to boost the profile of natural disasters and humanitarian crises wherever they occur. Giving can play a significant role in a company’s competitive position in the marketplace.

“The private sector is uniquely qualified to raise funds, coordinate rapid response and leverage resources around the world,” said Sanford I. Weill, chairman of Citigroup Inc. The financial giant is donating $7 million cash, including $1 million through an employee-matching program, to a relief fund for the victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake in northwestern Pakistan.

“U.S. companies are committed to humanitarian relief and do care as well about improving their image abroad — especially given the anti-American climate,” said Maria Schneider of Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of leading corporations.

From big oil companies to retailers to pharmaceuticals, technology and financial concerns, companies are becoming more sophisticated in their giving.

“During this year of disasters — here and abroad — the U.S. private sector has not only been generous financially, but has also provided its expertise and diverse resources to support the outstanding work of relief agencies on the ground,” said John J. Castellani, president of Business Roundtable. “Donated medicines, water purification systems, vehicles, satellite phones and logistics and technology know-how have undoubtedly saved lives.”

In response to the tsunami, which killed more than 230,000 people in 13 countries, nearly 600 U.S. companies have generated more than $565 million in aid.

That includes cash, products and services for the reconstruction efforts in Southeast Asia, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Corporate Citizenship.

In much the same way, the corporate sector played a crucial role during Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the Gulf Coast Aug. 29.

More than 390 companies have given $409 million and collected $138 million in contributions from donors, for a total of $547 million.

That eventually could reach $1 billion, the Chamber center said.

“Corporate philanthropy has become part of a bigger picture as companies realize the social benefits for global communities,” said Cari Parsons of the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy, an international forum of business chief executives, based in New York.

Businesses also are becoming more involved in global crises outside the scope of their usual cash donations.

“This year U.S. companies have contributed not only more money but also services, supplies, technical expertise, volunteers and training. They are sending doctors to care for the victims,” said Ms. Parsons, the committee’s director of operations.

In October, five U.S. private-sector executives established the South Asia Earthquake Relief Fund to help the victims of the killer earthquake in which more than 80,000 people died and an additional 3.5 million were left homeless, most of them in northwestern Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir.

The fund was formed by the chief executive officers of Citigroup, General Electric Co., Pfizer Inc., UPS and Xerox Corp. with the aim of raising $100 million by Jan. 31 to meet “the desperate need for food, medical treatment and supplies” of the quake survivors.

It will complement the U.S. government relief and reconstruction commitment — more than $500 million.

“This natural disaster is unlike any earthquake seen in modern history,” said Henry A. McKinnell, Jr., Pfizer chairman and CEO.

“Looking at this tragedy, you feel that very strong part of the American culture and tradition. That is when your neighbor needs help, you try to help.”

He said drug manufacturer Pfizer has doubled its initial quake disaster relief contribution to $2 million in cash and $10 million in medicine and health care products.

“Pakistan is a very good friend of the United States in the war against terror and the U.S. wants to help,” said Mr. McKinnell, who toured the devastated area with other executives in November.

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