Ahuma Adodoadji, CEO, Plan USA

Ahuma Adodoadji, CEO, Plan USA

On the day after Christmas, 2004, a series of tsunamis swept across beaches along the Indian Ocean, killing more than 225,000 people. While the philanthropic response dwarfed that for any other international disaster, the regions affected by the devastating waves struggled to rebuild. At the time, Plan USA, part of Plan International, was one of a few American organizations established in Indonesia, which was among the first regions hit by the tsunami. It responded immediately after the disaster, distributing emergency water supplies to eighty-one camps for thousands of internally displaced people and providing supplemental feeding programs in six villages. Ahuma Adodoadji became CEO of Plan USA earlier this year, but he has extensive experience in disaster relief having spent most of his career with CARE, World Vision, World Relief, and MAP International.

Recently, Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Adodoadji about his organization's ongoing post-tsunami efforts in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and its aggressive plans to expand in 2008.

Philanthropy News Digest: It's hard to believe we're approaching the third anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Plan USA has been active in Sri Lanka and Indonesia for much of the last three years. Tell us about the progress your organization has made in those countries.

Ahuma Adodoadji: Well, three years on, the relief phase of our efforts has given way to reconstruction, rehabilitation, and restoring a sense of normalcy for the children and their communities. Everywhere you look, the sights and sounds of people rebuilding their lives, livelihoods, and communities abound.

In Sri Lanka, Plan adopted two different approaches to post-tsunami settlement building: the Yayawatta housing settlement, where we built two hundred homes for residents, and an individual housing scheme where one hundred and twenty-five families were each helped to build a house on land they previously owned. Plan supplied a thousand carpenters and masons with tool kits to speed their return to work. In addition, through our livelihood projects, we provided US$250,000 in loans and grants to microfinance partners to help defer old loans and extend new ones to women affected by the tsunami.

In Indonesia, we focused on revitalizing Aceh's public health system, especially the rebuilding of community health posts, called Posyandu, and birth-delivery systems, called Polindes. We also supported secondary clinical training centers, through which we conducted four rounds of immunizations on "National Immunization Day." And we introduced a supplementary feeding program in six villages of the Mesjid Raya subdistrict, an effort that led to the elimination of severe malnutrition and a decrease in moderate malnutrition rates from 15.4 percent to 2.7 percent.

In terms of child rights and participation, Plan trained children on how to voice their opinions regarding their human rights using news reporting, photography, cartoons, radio programming, and video filming. A group of young people in Sri Lanka were trained on film production, and they made a documentary film that was aired nationally on the one-year anniversary of the tsunami.

PND: Prior to joining Plan USA, you had extensive experience in relief with groups like CARE and World Relief. What did you bring to Plan as a result of the natural and manmade incidents those groups responded to during your tenure?

AA: The primary lesson gained through my experience with organizations such as CARE and World Relief is one of disaster preparation. It is crucial to train the people who live in areas prone to natural or man-made catastrophes. Disaster preparedness can prevent some of the catastrophic situations we see today. Families with emergency food supplies and contingency plans, for example, living in homes made with proper materials are going to fare so much better when disaster strikes. Family ties, livelihood, and heritage are among the many reasons that people remain in areas prone to risk. The end goal is to help these communities improve their infrastructure and be prepared for disasters with a proactive, rather than reactive, approach.

PND: Tell me about Plan USA's ongoing expansion of its disaster and relief activities.

AA: We have embarked on a new five-year plan to direct increased funding for disaster relief activities in vulnerable areas such as South Asia and Africa. To oversee these efforts, we created a new position at a global level and brought in a disaster coordinator. Plan is learning to quickly assess and act in emergency situations.

In recent years, we have seen an overall shift in the worldwide development community. Disaster relief is now an integral part of any development plan, rather than a distinct and separate entity. In reality, effective development cannot exist without disaster preparedness. Moreover, the people most impacted by disasters, natural or manmade, are children. Therefore, expanding our disaster and relief activities is in completely in line with our global mission.

PND: The organization has announced it intends to grow in specific areas during the next year. Please elaborate.

AA: Our aggressive plans for the growth of this organization are focused on five key areas: growth across revenue lines; worldwide visibility and recognition; improved program quality and accountability; becoming a global leader in children's issues; and expanded disaster relief and recovery. In the United States, specifically, we are looking to further engage the Washington, D.C., community and will soon introduce a new vice president of international affairs at our D.C. office.

PND: My first exposure to Plan USA was through its child-sponsorship efforts. But today it seems more focused on disaster relief. Has the organization shifted its focus or is it simply a matter of international problems being more visible than they once were?

AA: Plan has not changed its focus. We were the first organization to embrace the concept of child sponsorship, setting up a cross-cultural network of funding and friendship. We still center all activities on what is best for the children and their families. Today, we are one of the oldest and largest organizations of our kind — our grassroots, self-help programs assist more than ten million children and their families in poor communities around the world.

It is important to note that we involve children in all aspects of our programs. Projects are planned, implemented, and their results are evaluated at the level of the child. Families and communities contribute as much as they can of their time and labor. They are partners in development.

You are right, however, that international disasters are more visible than they once were. It is for this reason that the development world is shifting to include disaster preparedness and relief as a crucial element of overall programming. Without this component, an organization is not properly prepared to support the children and families in need.

Matt Sinclair