Karma Delivers: coordinating logistics for nonprofit disaster relief

  Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

While millions witness another hurricane wreck havoc across coastal communities, and evacuations glut highways, in most cases we do little more than hope for the best. Meanwhile, first-responders gather their supplies, hitch up their pants, and get ready for whatever comes their way. The efforts, unfortunately, are often scattered and lack logistical coordination. FEMA and other aid organizations claim to have learned from the past, and to have improved their response, but we currently lack systematic solutions. There’s an app for just about everything today, but we lack the ability to coordinate our efforts through a systematized, open-source protocol to help people suffering from human-made or natural disasters.

That’s where Karma Delivers comes in. Karma Delivers is a start-up nonprofit organization designed to serve small and medium social impact organizations by leveraging commercial transportation networks to move aid and/or donations locally or globally using cloud technology for visibility and proof of delivery.

Technology today consumes the logistics industry, creating thousands of data points where just a decade ago only a handful was used. All carriers and shippers worth their salt use some sort of technology platform to maximize and leverage efficiencies and increase margins.

“Observing the amount of effort and planning to get aid to the impact zone and collaborating without technology can lead to logistic bottlenecks and misdirections that tie up equipment, burn up money, and worst of all: waste people’s time and good will,” writes co-founder Michael Carmody to FreightWaves. “Depending on the location, the volunteer’s skill level with logistics best practices and process control can be overwhelming.”

“The early and understandable response from the nonprofit world is to focus donations in cash that can be allocated quick and easy without the hurdles that come with physical good donations, overlooking the obvious root cause that no one was tracking that load like a logistics professional ensuring a proof of delivery was signed and the trailer unloaded, so the driver can get his next dispatch,” according to Carmody.

Ultimately, Karma Delivers is looking to the future of social impact collaboration in the logistics space, and there seems a natural market need for technology firms to empower NGO’s and nonprofits with software donation programs and access to education resources.

“Our goal is to establish a collaborative ‘best practice’ toolkit for working together with the transportation community to have donation and aid shipments moved through existing freight networks with the costs covered by the online donor community for a sustainable business model. Working with the established carrier and forwarder community ensures the physical goods will be handled like any other by a logistics professional in any country,” Carmody tells FreightWaves by phone.

The organization is only a year-and-half old, but the team was built through friendships and collaborations over the course of years.

“I’m a logistics guy that goes back about 20 years, and I have connections from Mexico City,” says Carmody. “Our main mission is to help those who have suffered from natural and manmade disasters. For instance, we see Detroit as a manmade disaster. Food is such a challenge and grocery logistics is the toughest market to deliver for and are hard to make profitable. The nonprofit world is working on how to bring food into these centers.”

“I’m based in San Diego, and John Pugno (our CFO) is in Detroit, and he’s helping to create a social impact there. We’re using land to build a commercial greenhouse, raising the funds for them, and teaching people how to maintain it.”

 “We’re not really a first responder. We’re a support organization. Most of the nonprofits we’ll see are going to go in there with a few volunteers and people pointing and what to do. There’s no integrated software. The first storm is going to suck up everything, and the second there’s not much left. There’s not a systematic approach. It’s just giving out a few of the things they need. Red Cross probably does it the best. No one has a software to support,” says Carmody.

“The goal ultimately is to create a platform that nonprofits can plug into and set up and collaborate. The logistics organizations that contribute in a neutral way. It’s apolitical. Just there to help those that have been impacted. It could be an eaerthquake, a hurricane, a tornado, you name it. This can be done in Mexico and Puerto Rico, anywhere. Not just here. It’s a way to have a social impact,” he says.

Their approach as a nonprofit is to create an element of trust and transparency. “You can see where every dollar is spent as well. I don’t see anyone in the nonprofit space doing anything in the technology space because they don’t know anything about it,” says Carmody. At the same time, he also observes that we don’t see the technology players getting into the nonprofit side.

Karma Delivers can be that bridge, an olive branch between two sectors that can create some social good. The platform is pre-revenue. It’s mostly Carmody himself funding the thing so far. While it allows him to be flexible, he also says that he’s at a place where the organization needs seed funding to create the TMS and prototype. “I need about $50K to get it together and do live demos and web demos after that I think the pipeline will really open up,” he says.

While the approach is meant to help people organize locally, it’s also meant to be a powerful tool in any given country. “In some countries it can get really messy. We’re designed to sell to other nonprofits and we’re looking at this globally,” says Carmody.

Ultimately, the platform could empower thousands of aid organizations who can then participate in more impact zone response campaigns and stronger planning preparation programs thinking ahead of the next natural disaster and not worrying if their load of aid will ever make it to those that need it most.

Such coordination could also help hurricane-relief efforts, especially in the long weeks and months afterwards when the media cycle has moved on.

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.