Filling Wish Lists, Not Landfills: Smart Logistics Leverage Successful Foreign Aid
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
By Ariel Miller
Too often, quality goods from hospital beds to school desks end up in landfills across Australia when institutions buy new equipment or businesses discard unsold inventory. Rotarians have developed smart logistics to match these goods to the wish-lists from developing countries. Now they’re asking for modest contributions from Clubs to overcome a major barrier: sharply-rising shipping costs. District 9800’s new Multi-Club Container Project offers Clubs an affordable way to share in overseas success and rebuild enthusiasm battered by the pandemic. Even better: by joining forces Rotarians can achieve a bigger and more durable humanitarian impact than Clubs can working alone.
Rotary Australia World Community Service (RAWCS) sponsors a nationwide Donations-in-Kind (DIK) Network of recycling/shipping warehouses whose registered charity status provides Australian donors a tax deduction. The DIK network has developed the expertise to ensure overseas shipments comply with the import requirements of recipient countries, and to verify that the donations are not being resold. In addition, they have built the relationships needed to ensure that the technology fits the recipient community, and to work out the logistics to ensure the donation arrives at the intended destination.
“I suspect that Donations in Kind in Australia and New Zealand is Rotary’s largest circular economy, recycle and repurposing project,” says David Dippie, a member of Keilor East Rotary Club, who assists by using his project management expertise at the DIK warehouse in West Footscray (in Victoria, Australia).
“Australia produces vast amounts of surplus reusable goods that are needed in developing countries,” Dippie explains. “Long-term, we want the government to help fund the recycling and shipping costs, giving them a recycling project they could be proud of and a very cost-effective form of overseas aid.”
Launched by a single Rotary club a few years ago in a garage, DIK West Footscray now works with four of five Rotary Districts in Victoria. Since 2000, this DIK store has delivered over AUD $78.3 million in donated goods to 33 other countries. On average, each donated dollar delivers $15 worth of equipment.
The West Footscray DIK operates out of a warehouse near the Port of Melbourne, at an annual operating cost of $160,000, mostly for rent. It is fully funded by Rotary clubs and staffed 100% by volunteers, half of them non-Rotarians. Volunteers can spend a rewarding day sorting and packing donations. “The DIK store is the greatest membership incentive we have,” says Dippie. “Taking a prospect out to dinner may not be that exciting, however visiting or volunteering at DIK shows them what Rotarians can do collectively.” Just one example: a group of people who toured the DIK warehouse in West Footscray were inspired to start a Passport Club with members from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Australia, “people involved on both ends of a project. It’s a great way for Rotary to meet.”
This video tells the inspiring story of how DIK provided $150,000 of medical equipment requested by Moyo Hospital in Uganda, at a shipping cost of $15,000.
The process starts with a wish-list, for example from a rural hospital in Timor Leste, an island nation north of Australia. Then DIK planners get to work on the reality checks, essential in deciding what equipment to send: “Is someone available to run it? To maintain it? Are the consumables available?” Dippie explains. In scheduling shipments, DIK teams also factor in other dynamics like monsoons and national holidays. For example, “Will the roads be passable? If you can’t deliver the container to the destination, you might have to get a team of people to carry the goods up a hill.”
“Experience prevents a lot of heartbreak and frustration,” Dippie adds. “A whole container can get confiscated because of errors in documentation.” Other obstacles include complying with country-specific import regulations, and the planning needed to prevent delays and demurrage charges at the port.
Rotarians are leveraging DIK’s expertise and economies of scale to change the business model of schools, health care providers, and businesses in Australia. “I’m cheeky enough that I talk to an Australian education department: What do you do with your waste? Would you rather pay for landfill, or help fund us? “DIK offers a better alternative to landfill.” DIK also opens minds and hearts in the community: “Kids from donor schools have written messages to recipient kids on the donated desks, and parents have come down to help us pack.”
Dippie also sees DIK as a force multiplier for Rotary. In a strategy being piloted this year by District 9800, Clubs can become Project Partners by a donation of as little as $500 to the RAWCS shipping account. Due to the huge inflation in shipping costs, DIK has had to turn down donations of goods for lack of funds to ship them. The D 9800 pilot gives Rotary Clubs a way to pool small sums to close the gap. If your club would like to be a partner in a great project, donate here.
As an incentive, DIK allows donor Clubs to nominate and vote for recipient projects which become eligible for District and other grants. Even more valuable is DIK’s ability to bring Clubs in one country together to work strategically with another nation on big goals. “We know what they want in Timor Leste, such as 50,000 desks and chairs for schools,” says Dippie. “We can get 500 desks in a container.” In Australia, DIK relationships yield huge donations of goods. “We get donations of 1,000 hospital beds. We can ship 60 repurposed hospital beds for what it would cost to buy one new.”
“We’re developing communication hubs so people who care about a country can talk together,” Dippie explains. Organized in individual clubs and districts, Rotary often lacks the structure to pursue a national strategy, he points out. “We need to develop a national spotlight rather than 1,000 individual candles. Let’s work together on this, as we’re doing with polio.” Citing one project in Timor Leste that involved Clubs from several Districts, he noted this makes international projects something local Clubs can afford and “own,” with a good outcome they can talk about and take pride in.”
DIK’s model is tested and scalable. The team is hoping to host a field trip during the 2023 Rotary International Convention in Melbourne. To find out more about DIK, note your interest in visiting then, or to enroll your Club as a Project Partner, email David Dippie in Melbourne. Photo credits: DIK West Footscray. Packing containers with school furniture and hospital beds for Timor Leste.