As you enter Walmart’s Home Office you can’t miss a painting on the right. The long line of trucks heading into New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, ready to bring supplies to communities in need, reminds all associates of the moment that forever changed our thinking. A moment that helped us realize how we could draw on our strengths as a business to support communities during disasters and help solve pressing challenges like climate change and food insecurity.
Since 2005, responding to natural and human-made disasters across the U.S. and worldwide, from hurricanes to wildfires, the COVID-19 pandemic to civil unrest has become part of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation’s DNA. As the frequency of these events continues to climb, our approach evolved, realizing that while responding in the moment is vital, our impact can be greater by also helping the places we call home prepare. We also deepened our focus on equity, because a more equitable response helps make communities stronger for everyone.
Lack of preparedness can have lasting economic and social impacts on communities – especially communities of color. When communities are unable to quickly respond to disasters or access necessary resources, the impacts can increase inequality and hurt communities in the long-term. For example, a Society for the Study of Social Problems report showed that in the wake of disaster, white Americans living in certain counties gained $126,000 net worth on average, while Black Americans in the same areas lost $27,000.
By helping communities get ahead of disasters and focus on equity in response so that all people can recover, we can better serve them when a disaster strikes. That’s why we are pushing forward on new philanthropic investments in areas prone to disasters with higher numbers of Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities. Starting these investments in the Gulf Coast allows us to test solutions and learn how we can use philanthropy to help communities build the capacity to respond to disasters more effectively and equitably.
The Walmart Foundation has made an investment of more than $3 million in a group of organizations helping local government leaders and community-led organizations in the Gulf Coast prepare their communities for disasters. These investments include:
- St. Bernard Project (SBP) – SBP will expand its Leader Practitioner Course (supported by the Walmart Foundation), a one-of-a-kind program that helps government leaders more effectively deliver mitigation and recovery resources to low-income, high population communities of color. SBP will also increase long-term resilience for communities of color by placing two Resilience & Recovery Fellows in local government offices to prioritize challenges, secure federal and charitable mitigation funding and build sustainable best practices.
- Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Disaster Management (I-DIEM) – I-DIEM will implement its Bridging Support for Underserved and Indigenous Communities in Landfall Disasters (BUILD) program to empower community-based organizations through capacity building and education on mitigation funding strategies. I-DIEM will lead mitigation workshops for 10 vulnerable, underserved, and/or marginalized communities in Louisiana and Mississippi. These workshops will help leaders work on funding sources, business development, and government relations with the aim to combat systemic exclusionary practices and cultivate communities that are stewards of resilience and sustainability.
- Nature Conservancy (TNC) – TNC will work across three counties in Florida’s panhandle to help small, low-income local governments identify and design nature-based solutions (NBS), which use natural infrastructure, such as wetlands and oyster reefs, to help communities prepare for and build resiliency to natural disasters. This will further advance an existing TNC project called SUNS (Scaling-up Nature-based Solutions), which works with local government officials and other stakeholders to identify opportunities, access funding, and create plans for NBS in the area of the Florida panhandle severely damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018.
- Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy at Tulane University (DRLA) – DRLA’s Consortium for Equitable Disaster Resilience (CEDR) will research the barriers that prevent rural and underserved organizations from receiving preparedness funding. Using insights from this research, CEDR will create an equitable resilience framework and work with 10 grassroots community organizations to help create equitable disaster response and funding plans. CEDR will also create open-source courses in English, Spanish and Vietnamese to educate 500 students and community leaders on resilience and equity training.
The firm belief that sparked in us after Hurricane Katrina remains the same. By using our resources and learnings from the past 15 years, we know we can have a major impact in helping our neighbors prepare for, and respond to, disasters. This focus on the Gulf Coast will help us learn how intentional investments in communities can strengthen the ability of local governments and organizations to better prepare. And by looking at the whole system of mitigation funding and planning, we hope these investments help other underserved communities access the funding and resources they need to move disaster preparedness forward.