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The earthquakes in Turkey, the floods and landslides in Pakistan and the impact of cyclone Freddy in South East Africa were catastrophic for the people impacted.

Figures show that natural disasters are increasing in frequency to more than one per day across the world. In 2020, 100 million people were affected with a global cost of $170 billion.

Natural disasters come in many different forms: extreme weather, wildfires, volcanoes, earthquakes and disease. They typically arise from the conditions that cause the major challenges faced in the world and tend to have the worst impact on already under-resourced communities. Addressing disasters with effective measures is critical for advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

New approach

The Catalyst 2030 Disasters Group is developing a new approach to disasters that positions social innovators as a key resource in the future of global Readiness, Response and Recovery. We aim to engage the skills and capabilities of local social innovators to build new collaborations and an operating model(s) that will yield better disaster mitigation and faster, more effective response and recovery systems.

Watch the videos for accounts of lived experience.

The 3 R’s of Disasters – Readiness, Response and Recovery

The management of disasters can be broken down into three phases:


Most disasters are predictable – the timing, extent and scale are uncertain. For example, earthquake fault lines are mapped, floods and storms are seasonal occurrences that can be tracked, drought and fire risks are well known and dormant volcanos are understood. It makes sense to plan for these contingencies and to put in place mitigation and prevention measures, where possible. Such measures might include changing agricultural practises, land-use and construction methods and developing adequate response capacity.


When disaster strikes, the speed and accuracy of response is critical to human survival. Yet evidence from survivors and humanitarian practitioners is that the rescue effort often arrives slowly and is constrained by limited capacity. Being ready and well-capacitated so that responses are faster and more effective, helps to save lives and reduce suffering.


The importance of recovery is often overlooked. Disasters can destroy livelihoods and may leave people destitute. Having recovery mechanisms in place can help to mitigate future disasters and increase community resilience. All too often this support is unavailable and people are left isolated when the response teams leave and the world focuses on the next disaster.

Solutions Required

New collaborations and operating models are needed to address the above-mentioned shortcomings in disaster response.

The Strategic Vision – Make local central

International agencies often compete, rather than collaborate, in disaster situations. The voices of the people who need help are frequently not heeded by them, nor are local resources trusted or local community members empowered to be part of the solution.

As a result, external aid agencies are typically not connected to local networks that can be activated during disasters so that agencies, working collaboratively with locals, can tap into community needs and respond quickly and effectively. Social innovators are ‘on the ground’, working with and being trusted by their communities. They can bring:


Local knowledge

Local knowledge of the people and the resources that are available – the social innovators know the local conditions that are critical for determining mitigation and recovery plans.



They are known and trusted by the people who will need to be helped and this can guide prioritising and determining real needs as well as mobilising people to help themselves so that they become part of their own solution, rather than abstract victims.

Local knowledge of and contact with the authorities

Once again local social innovators are a valuable source of trust and a potential resource to lead and coordinate operations.

Access to local logistics, food and materials

Local social innovators know where to go to get things locally.

Around for the long term

Social innovators are local and will be there for the long-term rebuild rather than being parachuted in and out.

While some social innovators are involved in disaster relief, many are not set up for it and have limited experience in this kind of work.

The vision of the group is to develop the capacity and capability of social innovators in disaster risk management, making them a central resource in a new operating model for disasters.

We have adopted the strapline Make local central.

Disaster management cycle
There is a considerable body of thinking in the humanitarian area that endorses and recommends empowering local resources – under the term ‘localisation’. We believe that Catalyst 2030 can help achieve this change by mobilising social innovators to become keys to the new model.

We aim to co-create a new operating model that puts social innovators and their communities at the heart of how disasters are managed; a collaboration between local social innovators and national and international agencies.

The work of Goonj in India – our guiding light

A key inspiration for the Catalyst 2030 Disasters Group’s model is GARRD which was developed by Catalyst 2030 founder member, Goonj, in India.

The key elements of GARRD, which stands for Goonj Alliance for Rapid Response on Disasters, are illustrated in the graphic below.

What is GARRD

A Scalable Shovel Ready Idea

A collaborative network of rural and urban stakeholders and actors, created and working together in disaster and non-disaster time

Focus on bringing disaster response into the mind-set of each member of the alliance for their own organisational work and approaches

Ongoing collaborative process of listening, learning and leveraging system changing actions in non-disaster time to prepare for the colossal damage and devastation

Well defined resource commitments in advance for disasters, by funders, community leaders and other stakeholders

Making the vision real – our current work programme

Through Catalyst 2030 we have secured seed funding and are taking early steps to develop the operating model in East Africa, based in Uganda.

We have identified six tracks of the new operating model that need to be defined, developed and integrated. This approach is based on Good Management Practice and established academic thinking.

The diagram illustrates the overall approach.

Elements of the operating model

Disaster Response Operating Model Elements
Elements of the Operating model

In summary, we are:

  • Identifying interest and enlisting local capacity among social innovators
  • Establishing capabilities and developing training
  • Building wider networks with government and international agencies
  • Identifying information and communication technology (ICT) solutions that can be applied
  • Developing operating protocols across the network with the partners that will define how we work together in operational situations

This all needs funding and we are working to engage multiple funders who can support the vision and allow us to develop a demonstrator.

How you can help?

If you relate to this vision for a new model of disaster management – we want to hear from you, get you into the team and explore how we can collaborate. Connect with us:

  • Wherever you are in the world
  • With whatever skills you think you can bring
  • With your connections and wider network for collaboration and/or funding

Our work is not restricted to East Africa – that is just where we have chosen to start.

Contact Details

Please reach out to Alan Braithwaite, Disasters Group Chairman, at or +44 7802 795444

Catalyst 2030 members who are signed into the member portal can find and connect with us through the collaborations page.

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