Haiti is a place where Willis Group Holdings plc, the global insurance broker, does little or no business. Among its 17,000 employees worldwide, the firm says only one was known to come from Haiti.
But still, the company’s employees responded generously when the January 12 earthquake devastated the island nation. All it took was an urgent appeal from the CEO and an online tool to allow instant, easy giving across every time zone.
It didn’t hurt that Willis was ready to match the individual response, dollar for dollar.
When the Willis Cause for Haiti Campaign concluded on March 1 after a five-week run, a total of $207,628.73 had been collected, the equivalent of a $12 donation from each person employed by the company around the world. In fact, 2,075 employees participated, making their donations at all hours via a special web site the company set up to handle the extraordinary response. Adding in the company’s match, the total rises to roughly $407,000, or $81,400 per week to a list of several dozen charities with “boots on the ground” engaged in real time assistance to Haiti.
It started with a phone call. On January 14, Willis Chairman and CEO Joe Plumeri was in London watching two days of news coverage from Haiti. He called the company’s director of human resources, Susan Gunn, and pledged corporate assistance. But Plumeri also wanted employees eager to help to have a means to act on their instincts. Over the weekend, the special web site was set up, and on the afternoon of January 19, Plumeri emailed everyone at Willis to say the site was live.
“The response started on the West Coast, where it was late morning, and made its way West around the world. As people got to work the next day, they read, clicked and gave,” said Plumeri. “Our global presence is predominantly in the larger cities in the developed countries, but it was enormously gratifying to see such a fast and generous outpouring to a place and a people in such dire need,” he added.
“It was incredible to watch when donations were made and where they came from,” said Gunn. “We received $29,000 the first day, $45,000 the second day and $14,000 the third day. Then we emailed all of our associates again reporting the wide participation and providing our link, and another $32,000 came in right after.”
“In a global company there’s always someplace around the world where the lights are on,” said Joshua King, head of communications and marketing. “There’s no choice but to embrace the tools to share information and take action across time zones, whether those tools help us do business better or give to a very worthy cause.”
Distribution of the roughly $407,000 raised through the Willis Cause for Haiti Campaign is ongoing. When Willis’ special web site was set up, 50 certified charities were identified to have the ability to help bring immediate relief to a suffering people. After five weeks of operation, Willis associates from 32 countries had participated. The largest single donation was $10,000. The smallest was the minimum $10. The average was almost exactly $100.
The largest recipient of contributions from Willis was the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, followed by the American Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam.
“In parts of the world like Chile where there is broad insurance coverage in place, Willis’s role after a catastrophe is to get to the scene to assess damage and arrange payment of claims,” said Plumeri, “That’s the legacy of the San Francisco Earthquake in 1903, the attack on Lower Manhattan in 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and thousands of events in between. The eventual rebuilding of those areas is the proud heritage of the insurance industry.
“In places like Haiti, it falls to governments, NGOs, companies and individuals to help the rebuilding effort. I’m so proud of the people of Willis, and millions of others in offices and homes around the world, who answered the call when it was needed most. Haiti has a chance to turn a nightmare into something with a hopeful future,” said Plumeri, “and I’m glad we’re playing a role.”
Charities were not the only recipients of Willis funds. Associates privately contributed to their colleague Wesly Guiteau, a Haitian native, from Willis Bermuda, who made his way to Haiti to search for missing family members, all of whom were eventually found safe and well. Guiteau continues to work on relief efforts in Haiti, helping the local mayor of Lasahobas, Guiteau’s hometown, raise funds and provide aid for the people of that area. He also is working to provide temporary housing (durable tents) for 200 families in Port Au Prince.