As I sat in a hospital bed after being hit by a drunk driver in December 2004, I watched repetitive news broadcasts about the devastating tsunami that ravaged South East Asia, leaving more than 10 million people homeless and more than 230,000 dead. I couldn't pull my eyes off the screen, absolutely floored by the magnitude of this disaster. What ensued was the largest outpouring of charitable donations, fundraising concerts, celebrity events, and compassion our world has seen.
At the time I thought to myself, "This is great, people are really stepping up" - and they did. What blew me away were the news reports a month later when those same stations now showed glaring images of people in Sri Lanka and Indonesia fighting over coconuts because they had nothing else to eat as they slept under tarps and continued to wait. That was it for me.
More than $10 billion was pledged and yet news reports continued to show communities that had never received a penny. Countless questions raced through my mind, "What happened to investigative journalism?! Why is nobody being held accountable and who the hell is in charge?"
Not one reporter answered the question of "Where did all the money go?" I was shocked that these organizations were not accountable for documenting the expenditure and results of these generous contributions. In February of 2004, less than 30% of those affected in Sri Lanka had received any aid.
I refused to sit there, point fingers, and not do something about it. Fueled by anger, frustration, and the determination to find out the truth, when I was released from the hospital, I took the money from the settlement from the accident, boarded a plane, and flew to Sri Lanka.
The exhaustive explanations about the need for even more donations shrouded the fact that not only were funds not reaching survivors, but much of the aid that had been donated was actually locked up in storage areas while people continued to suffer.
This is not to say that there weren't groups that were helping, but the majority of what I saw consisted of relief efforts stalled by red tape, bureaucracy, and countless reasons about why nothing had been done while NO ONE was being held accountable.
I've never been one to take no for an answer. Instead of walking through refugee camps for "assessments," we picked up shovels side by side with the survivors of this disaster, and together we began to rebuild.
What began as a ten day trip, turned into four months of intensive reconstruction. This resulted in the development of homes, businesses, community centers, and individuals who could begin to smile again because they realized that they had not been forgotten in refugee camps while large agencies argued about the need for additional funds.
I documented the entire process with video footage, photographs, and receipts of every single penny spent. The response was incredible as donors were able to see the faces of the people they had helped. For the first time, they could actually see their impact. I realized that there is a different way of doing things, and I had an idea how.
Direct evidence of all expenditures that achieved those results was the missing piece of the puzzle.
It was from these seeds that CAN-DO was born.
CAN-DO was born out of my own frustration with the system and the critical need I saw to hold charitable organizations accountable for hard-earned donations and to the communities they serve.
I have come to find that "NGOs" are part of a highly unregulated business sector and we need to start making them accountable. And this was not just a problem in Sri Lanka, it is happening everyday.
We keep seeing these carefully scripted scenarios on TV news and infomercials of a starving child with a bloated belly and can not help but be stirred to sympathy and compelled to donate what we can to the number flashing on our screens. But how do we know whether or not our contributions are reaching that child, all I'm saying is FOLLOW UP. Show me that same child you have been using as a poster child for years, healthy, happy, and educated. Show me some damn proof!
Now there are a number of highly reputable charities that DO provide real aid and I have no intention of discrediting them or discouraging donations. I do feel strongly, however, that there must be complete accountability.
I have continued to build CAN-DO as an example that we can cut through the red tape, document our efforts, and create lasting change, ultimately changing the face of philanthropy and setting new standards for effective relief efforts.
Every CAN-DO project has a clearly defined goal and specific measurable outcomes determined jointly with the communities to validate the impact of the programs. Additionally, CAN-DO is committed to complete accounting of every project, working with our donors at each phase through our VirtualVolunteer™ Programs.
We now have numerous successful projects in addition to the tsunami relief in Sri Lanka, including disaster relief for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike, the Iowa Floods, the Bigogwe floods, animal evacuation and transport missions, and more. Time and again, CAN-DO has exhibited remarkable effectiveness and unparalleled results.
Hurricane Katrina again revealed the corruption and bureaucracy that destroy effective efforts, leaving survivors waiting. Again, we proved that by never taking 'no' for an answer, we get the job done. We now have been in the Gulf Coast for more than four years. We have created more than 25 community distribution centers and we continue rebuilding homes to this day.
Based in our commitment to complete transparency and efficiency, we have remained a small, dedicated team of volunteers whose impact has continued to expand. Instead of incurring a fattened budget, we directly engage the survivors of catastrophe to become their own saviors, rebuilding their communities together. This model has proven incredibly effective and has garnered the attention of renowned philanthropists like former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, as well as government officials, and recently was awarded with the Global Compassion Award at the UN.
To further expand our impact, we created VirtualVolunteer.tv, the first interactive, real-time video website that enables you to directly participate in relief efforts.
Today, we utilize our proven approach right here at home to address glaring human rights abuses in the nation's poorest county, the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota. While building national awareness, our Community Revitalization Program addresses immediate survival needs while promoting long-term sustainability and improved quality of life through integrated, community-led solutions.
The first phases included the development of a community thrift store, greenhouse, and garden, completed this September. We are now developing the Veterans' Lodge and Memorial, with plans for a women's center, a learning center, skate park, and more.
I can not explain the full extent of my experiences, that feeling of reaching out and helping someone who has just survived an unfathomable disaster. But through VirtualVolunteer.tv you can experience this yourself. The realization of our own ability to make an impact is the essence of CAN-DO.
I invite you to join me.