From Crisis to Collaboration: Connecting at the National VOAD Conference

Midwest  |  July 25, 2023
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Written by Andrea Barkley

At the 2023 National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) Conference, Tzu Chi USA hosted a panel titled “From Crisis to Collaboration.” They invited their close partners to share experiences, fostering a rich dialogue on the roles of cooperation and creativity in crisis response.

The panel was introduced by a Tzu Chi volunteer, who expressed their appreciation for the partners present, including representatives from FEMA and Airlink. This introduction set the stage for discussing the importance of partnerships in disaster management and how organizations can enhance their collaborative efforts.

One of the key speakers was Marcus Coleman, Director of FEMA’s DHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He highlighted the longstanding relationship between Tzu Chi and his Center, emphasizing their joint efforts in disaster response, stating, “The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has been a very close partner of the Center for many years and for many disasters. And so one of the things that we often are thinking is how we can take some of these ‘blue sky’ opportunities to increase some of those unexpected partnerships and we want to expand that circle of collaboration through training, through workshops. We’re making sure people can apply for the Nonprofit Security Grant.” 

The panel presented a 4Cs framework for effective collaboration: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. This framework serves as a guide for how organizations can work together to amplify their impact.

Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Tzu Chi USA, stressed the importance of organizations like Tzu Chi USA participating in the National VOAD Conference. In addition to growing the collective capacity for relief, it provides an opportunity to understand how to support each other, and communicate Tzu Chi’s story to a broader audience.

It is important for Tzu Chi to be at the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster [Conference] to understand how to back up each other. We need to reach out to society to tell them the story of Tzu Chi.

Steven Smith, CEO of Airlink, expressed his gratitude for the invitation and shared insights into the broad range of response efforts his organization engages in. He highlighted the success of their collaboration with Tzu Chi USA, which supported them in creating programs and securing funding. He shared, “We went to [the Buddhist] Tzu Chi Foundation. They helped us come up with a program that helped with some funding. It’s great to work directly with all of the programs that you support around the world.”

Alongside these discussions, executive directors and volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s Midwest and Northwest Regions shared their expertise in disaster relief and long-term recovery. They emphasized the importance of local partnerships in bringing additional resources to help survivors. 

A key highlight of the day was a moving account by Professor Wei, a dedicated Tzu Chi volunteer from Kentucky. He shared an inspiring story from Tzu Chi’s response to powerful tornadoes that hit Kentucky on December 10 and 11. He recounted, “On the night of December 20, we all drove there to prepare relief. The situation demanded that we work together so we could genuinely support the people in need.” This anecdote illuminated the resolve and unity required in disaster relief, emphasizing the importance of collaborative efforts in such dire circumstances. 

I’d never heard of Tzu Chi but you guys do similar work to what we do in Team Rubicon, but also in providing funding to survivors, which I think is really awesome.

The panel discussion concluded with Minhjing Hsieh, Executive Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region, who underlined the spirit of the 4Cs by presenting the awarding winning Tzu Chi documentary, “Off Grid, On Fire.” He hoped the session had provided valuable insights into how collaborative efforts can improve the lives of those affected by disasters. 

The 2023 National VOAD Conference was a platform for Tzu Chi USA to strengthen existing partnerships and forge new ones. The event illustrated how collaboration enhances aid and benefits for disaster survivors.

What I learned most from this session is how we can all work together to improve the lives of those affected by disasters.

As the conference concluded, attendees shared their positive experiences and the connections they had made. The atmosphere was lively and friendly, as attendees were delighted to put faces to the names they had been collaborating with. This spirit of camaraderie and collaboration encapsulated the essence of the conference, and attendees left inspired to continue their collaborative efforts in disaster response.

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