The Disaster Accountability Project (DAP) is an effort started by Ben Smilowitz, a former Red Cross Volunteer. Smilowitz volunteered for the first time with the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina and was bothered by what he saw as a lack of oversight for operations. When his stint as a volunteer was cut short, Smilowitz knew he needed to do something to correct the flaws he had noticed in the current disaster relief system. The mission of DAP, which Smilowitz started while in law school, lies clearly in the name, to provide accountability and transparency in disaster relief.
The DAP enjoys the services of more than 250 volunteers, the majority of which are law students. The organization, founded by Smilowitz, is building two websites that provide profiles for each disaster relief organization as well as sub-profiles for each country. The DAP plans to gather reports of the activities of the organizations and use that information to build a database for the public to access.
In addition to providing information and oversight on functions and activities of organizations, Smilowitz hopes to also incorporate an online section for the reporting of problems in organizations and investigate them before they are made public. The bottom line, according to Smilowitz, is when a system is not effective, to find out what it is that is not working and address it with the aim of fixing it. DAP isn’t the only group focused on keeping nonprofits accountable and transparent, according to nonprofit experts there has been an avalanche of groups and websites forming to provide some oversight for the public.
People already working in the disaster relief subsector, however, believe that DAP may just be a redundant cause with an undeveloped idea. Smilowitz counters back at those nonbelievers by pointing out the key difference in his group as opposed to others, “We are not membership based, we’re not asking these organizations to become members and pay us. I think that makes us objective.”
It is unquestionable that organizations established to hold nonprofits accountable or “watchdog organizations” are, in general, good. According to Red Cross VP of public relations, Laura Howe, “The best ones out there have a long history of being objective, being consistent in what they ask, and how often they report on organizations.” We’ll be watching www.reliefoversight.org and www.disasteraccountability.org to find out if DAP will be one of these top watchdog organizations.