Calm Before (and after) the Storm: A Summer in Disaster Management

by Damian Kearney, MBA ‘15

Damian Kearney, MBA ‘15

Interning with Accenture Development Partnerships in the Philippines, Damian Kearney worked with clients trying to improve the disaster preparedness and recovery sectors.

The Philippines is no stranger to natural disasters. The country sits precariously in the notorious Ring of Fire. Dozens of typhoons hit the nation’s 7,100+ islands annually. Experts consider the archipelago nation to be among the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

The Philippines made international news November 2013 whenSuper-Typhoon Haiyan hit the country, killing thousands, and leaving millions injured, homeless, or displaced. Since then, billions of dollars have entered the country in the form of humanitarian and development aid. The funds have helped to repair many lives, and the country has actually made remarkable gains on the road to recovery. The country’s residents have welcomed a comparatively quiet typhoon season this year; however, knowing that another typhoon is always just around the corner, the country is literally always enjoying the calm before the storm.

As the business climate in the Philippines matures, and humanitarian agencies increasingly adopt market-based solutions, the need for strategic planning becomes increasingly important. Businesses and NGOs alike are finding it critical to plan for all stages of disaster management, from preparedness to rehabilitation.

My internship last summer was with Accenture, a global management consulting firm, in its international development practice, AccentureDevelopment Partnerships (ADP). I worked with two clients working in disaster management, based in Manila.

One client was the PhilippineDisaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF)—a 5-year-old foundation seeking to unite the Filipino business community for disaster preparedness and recovery.Our team helped PDRF create a high-level strategic plan for the foundation, including short-term tools to make the foundation more effective, and long-term plans for sustainability. This project was interesting because we worked withthe entire organization, were required to react frequently to client feedback, and had to come up with recommendations which were transformational but practical.

The other project was with an international NGO, World Vision, which does a variety of work in child welfare around the world. My team worked with the strategy division of the organization to develop a business case for creating in-house“cash expertise.” Over the last 15 years, humanitarian aid organizations have increasingly shifted resources from in-kind donations to cash or mobile-money solutions increasing the need for “cash expertise.” Moreover, during disasters, cash can play a key role in revitalizing local markets and speeding up the recovery process. Developing the business case for this internal capability was challenging, because our team not only had to conduct the “typical” financial analysis (market sizing, return on investment, etc.), but also was required to tell an appropriate story to a variety of stakeholders within a large international organization. While the project demanded strict analytical rigor, it was our ability to align the proper people and transfer our results to the appropriate departments within the organization that drove the ultimate success of the project.

Throughout both projects I was struck by how my education at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management directly informed my work. It combined the skills of the core curriculum, the client relationship skills of the Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE) immersion, and the intangibles that come from working on so many teams. My summer experience with ADP cemented the value of a Cornell MBA.

In addition to being an SGE immersion student, Damian is a candidate in the Emerging Markets Fellowship Program at Johnson. He received scholarship funding from the Roberto Canizares Fund during the summer. Funding enablesJohnson students to take internships in Emerging or Developing economies.