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My Own Disaster Journey

Monday, October 17, 2016
By Andrea Zussman
Manager, Regional Vibrancy and Sustainability
Northern California Grantmakers

Disasters are filled with paradox. They create devastation and chaos and ignite hope, compassion and community. Working in this field is an exercise of both urgency and patience.  It’s a field of planning and flexibility.  It’s about the individual and the community at the same time.  I have been transfixed by those tensions for more than two decades, through countless disasters.

Events halfway around the world and more than 20 years ago catalyzed my interest in disaster resilience.  When genocide wracked the east African country of Rwanda in 1994, I was already working in the field of international relief and development at Catholic Relief Services.  While the organization was mounting a robust immediate response, I was tapped to provide focus and support to its long-term recovery efforts there.  The scale was massive and the impact catastrophic.  It was a whirlwind of discussions about funding; about the challenges of community rebuilding in the face of loss, trauma, and continued conflict; and about the needs of millions of people displaced from their homes.

From that disaster and the others I have supported both near and far, I learned that there are multiple tensions to hold and address -- the very real, personal level impact and the enormous scale of need as a whole; short- and long-terms needs; and multiple sectors and community, organizational, and systems levels. 

As the new NCG Manager for Regional Vibrancy and Sustainability, I will apply those lessons and others from my nine years in disaster philanthropy to bolster the knowledge, capacity, and systems of Northern California’s philanthropic sector for disasters.  I am eager to learn from you about what issues are of the greatest interest and what practical tools would be most useful to you.  I look forward to working together with you to build a community of understanding around critical disaster issues and practical ways to collaborate and coordinate when disaster strikes. 

I am eager to hear your thoughts and stories. 

What experiences have you had with disaster?  How have they shaped your plans? 

What have you done already to prepare yourself and/or organizations and communities for disaster?  What obstacles or challenges have you faced?  Where have you had the most success?

What would help you prepare to support the organizations and communities you care about after a disaster? What ideas or plans do you have to share with others?

Learn more about Andrea's new role at NCG.