Gal is changing the face of emergency disaster relief by creating international smart networks that deliver crucial aid in high-risk areas.
The New Idea
Gal Lusky envisions a world in which teams can organize quickly and respond effectively to emergency crises. Her organization, IFA (Israel Flying Aid) assists survivors of natural disasters and human conflict in the world's most dangerous regions. The complexity of most humanitarian aid missions means that they are often limited in their response, constrained by bureaucracy, and reliant on the host country, which itself may also be entangled with corruption. As a consequence, victims of crises are denied access to life-giving relief.
IFA changes the face of emergency disaster relief by enabling local citizens to become agents of change in their communities by providing the needed aid. They drive the impact, rather than external and foreign agencies. By teaching and training locals in high risk areas as well as training other aid organizations of similar interest, Gal’s work reframes the role and position of humanitarian aid. She is building a coalition of rescue teams devoted to saving lives and cutting the often detrimental link between government interests, supplies and human capital. Gal’s vision is that this work will change the behavior of the states themselves: IFA is improving states’ understanding of the importance of aid in emergency situations and communicating that political priorities should not stand in the way of saving of lives.
Based on Gal’s extensive experience in disaster areas, IFA’s model is a sophisticated and easily replicable risk-assessment process that combines sourcing local supplies, networking, and connections. Over the last ten years, Gal’s organization has delivered food and medicine to people all over the world, including the Muslim population in Kashmir after an earthquake, monks in south Myanmar after a devastating cyclone, and isolated Georgian communities under Russian army siege. The IFA has worked in Indonesia, Haiti, Eritrea, and Sudan. Most recently, Gal’s organization delivered more than 120 tons of supplies to survivors and refugees in Syria as well as in unrecognized refugee camps in neighboring countries. Now she is looking forward to partnering with local communities in organizations to multiply her impact in other conflict-prone areas around the globe.
Victims of disasters and human conflicts currently rely on humanitarian organizations’ interventions and the speed of governments to respond to demands. Humanitarian missions also rely on imported goods and services rather than local ones, which is expensive and does not support the local economy.. In many countries facing emergency crises or natural disasters, inattentiveness of weak or malfunctioning governments can manifest in a failure to deliver the necessary aid to in-need populations. Pride, honor or simply lack of resources also leads to faulty treatment and unnecessary pain and deaths. In addition, humanitarian aid that is delivered intentionally slowly by governments can be viewed as a means of oppression towards rival groups or ethnicities. In addition, global political agreements make it difficult for some countries to intervene and provide aid outside of their borders. As a result, entire areas and populations around the world are cut off from aid and vital support in their greatest times of need. Millions of people are in high risk because of obstructionist tactics by local governments that use disasters to advance their own corrupt political agenda.
The global civil society is fighting acute human rights violations performed by governments through organizations and coalitions of human rights activists. Natural disaster survivors and refugees of conflict areas usually receive aid from big organizations or from country operated aid agencies. Those organizations are sponsored by countries and follow the governments’ direct command and set of interests. In the case of conflicts of interest, aid agencies can simply cut aid, which has a tremendous cost on human lives. In Myanmar alone, for example, more than 100,000 people died as a result of deliberate neglect and insufficient aid after the cyclone hit the south of the country in 2008. Opposition groups densely populated the southern provinces, which were the most devastated by the floods. The regime eliminated political rivals without firing one bullet, yet with the cost of many innocent human lives. Another example of this dynamic took place when the Indian government did not quickly aid Muslim communities after a quake hit Kashmir in 2005, or when the Syrian regime prevented the delivery of medical and food supplies from its rebellious cities. The time is ripe for a solution that will take the mandate on life saving aid from the big agencies and bring it to the hands of people, wherever they may be.
Over the last ten years, Gal has successfully organized and implemented aid and disaster relief missions globally. Working purposely in areas where the central government refuses to allow international involvement, Gal has mastered low risk techniques to deliver aid, supplies, and personnel. In doing so, the work remains low profile yet contributes to building systems that can respond to future disasters. Gal works with locals, communities and community leaders in high risk and disaster-prone areas to empower them, teach them important lessons about compassion and humanity, and build their resourcefulness. She also trains other global groups and organizations that provide aid in order to build strong and responsive local networks that can mobilize in future times of need.
Key to Gal’s strategy is building on the ground partnerships that inspire local teams into action. Her plans for each operation are extremely detailed in order to lower the risk for all parties. Over the last year, Gal has worked in Syria and in refugee camps in neighboring countries. She has also worked in Chechnya, Georgia, Sudan, Sumatra, Kashmir, and Myanmar. Gal begins by creating a deep frame of knowledge about her target country. She also generates the majority of the needed supply, manpower, and assistance from the target country and its people. This ensures that in future emergency situations the connections are in place and the needs for external resources are reduced. In addition, an important by-product of generating supplies locally is the great push that her investments provide to local merchants in what is often a critical time. It empowers them to see the extent to which their needs can be solved locally. Except for professionally trained doctors and caretakers, Gal’s team is comprised entirely of local partners and participants, who through her training and processes learn to deliver aid as well.
Gal’s teams operate in four key areas: tracing and rescuing of survivors, establishing feeding centers, providing medical aid, and offering post trauma treatments. Her experience in different climates and in various geographic areas improves and widens her skills: she now knows exactly what kind of team should be sent to countries based on the type of crisis. For example, her experiences in Burma and in Sri Lanka have created standard procedures for post-hurricane or tsunami relief: a pulmonologist and an infectious disease specialist must be sent, among other sourced locally. For earthquakes, such as in Kashmir, the team will now always include orthopedic doctors.
Gal's teams of volunteers include approximately 400 people around the world. These volunteers are easily mobilized, travel light, and recruit locals to help them build a completely self reliant workforce that can purchase supplies from existing local sources. Gal's teams rent local means of transportation, buy and get most of the feeding resources locally, and try to subsist on local products as much as possible. Because of the regulations for delivery of medications, Gal established an agreement with the pharmacy in Israel's biggest hospital, Tel Hashomer that allows her to empty its medicine storage in case of an acute emergency. IFA has also found local answers to these needs.
Gal's local partners learn her best practices in order to be able to respond effectively in the case of a future disaster. She is constantly looking for relevant allies: organizations and individuals who share the same perspective -- the crucial importance of saving lives, regardless of the price. The idea is to create a critical mass comprised of a global network of groups, individuals and organizations who are devoted to aid. Gal has recently hosted a team from the Mexican Aid group “Maceda,” for example, in which she trained them on her work in Jordan with officially unrecognized Syrian refugees. Gal has specific requirements for the first generation of partnerships she is looking to train, however. They must be small, vision driven, medical-oriented, and based on the work of volunteers. She is planning to work with eight more organizations in the immediate future in order to form the first coalition of aid providers willing to deliver aid regardless of borders or threat. During her operations, Gal and her team make sure that the local partners take active roles and participate in every aspect of the work, in order to make it easy for them to replicate in a future time of need.
The universal principles behind Gal’s system of risk assessment are simple to replicate and to teach. In her experience delivering aid in disaster and conflict areas, she has learned how to adapt the work to very specific situations. The solutions that she teaches are based on her success stories in the field and thus they require a strong will to ensure a similar impact. Her partners are aid organizations from around the globe, yet also the local communities in risk areas. Spreading her useful knowledge to other organizations and creating groups of on guard civilians ready to provide aid in their country or in one of its neighbors will create a critical mass of aid providers. This network will eventually be able to change the situation when aid is needed but not provided. The permission to save lives will no longer be dependent on interstate politics, but on the natural will of people to help one another in the greatest time of need. Eventually governments will have to change their ways and norms regarding the necessary permission to give aid.
Born in a Kibbutz community not far from the Sea of Galilee, Gal was raised as the only girl in a class of boys. Gal’s communal Kibbutz life taught her about the physical challenges of the outdoors. The life in a small community surrounded by nature, and long working hours in the Kibbutz's banana groves and cowsheds, taught Gal to accept hard physical labor. It also taught her the importance of being part of a devoted community in which individuals really care about the well-being of one another. Since an early age, Gal was taught that helping others is not altruism or even a chore, but instead the only way one should live life. Gal practiced Karate as a child as well, learning to master body and spirit, a skill which comes in handy during her aid missions in which she must bear very strenuous physical conditions. Her mother was the Kibbutz's secretary (a voted position, equal to the CEO) and one of the first women in the kibbutz movement to hold that position. Gal learned from her mother never to accept a barrier or a negative answer without checking the reason behind it.
Even as a child, Gal was attracted to the idea of breaking through borders and rethinking laws. During her final year of high school, she took a number of criminology courses in the nearby college. In high school, she studied alternative medicine. To pay for her tuition, she worked both as an air attendant and also in a private investigation office. Some of the tactics that she learned in that office were later put to use in the creation of her aid providing tool kit. In 1993, during his military service, Gal's brother was seriously injured in battle near the northern border of Israel. This event dramatically changed Gal's life course. Being so close to losing her brother in an atrocity he did not really choose to take part in made her understand her life's goal – to reduce unnecessary injuries of deaths as much as she possibly could, especially those caused by violence. Gal assisted her brother’s healing process for almost a year and eventually even dropped out of university in order to help him recover.
As soon as her brother recovered, Gal left for Rwanda. Rumors of the genocide drove her to leave her previous life and to discover how she could make a difference. Her first ambition was to join an organization to help facilitate her impact. After testing out this methodology, she soon understood that many NGOs were not saving as many lives as they possibly could. Some were even assisting the wrong side, mostly due to prior commitments to their donors, supporters, or backing countries. For the next ten years, she has traveled the world with friends and new colleagues, working and cooperating with organizations as much as possible, but not afraid to work on her own when the organizations are not sufficiently impactful. After the 2004 Tsunami when she made her way to Sri Lanka to provide aid, Gal decided to launch her own organization to solidify and scale her impact. She gathered a team of volunteers, which turned into more than 200 people joining her group. Within one year of launching, they provided aid in Georgia after floods hit the country. When the war between Israel and Lebanese groups in southern Lebanon in 2006 broke out, Gal worked for the first time within Israeli society, a move that brought her to the center of attention in Israel. Her will to keep her work discreet made her stay behind the scenes for another couple of years, and last year as the idea of building the network of aid givers was becoming more solidified, Gal's team decided that it was time to go public. Gal is not ready to leave her team completely for the office life, but facing the great challenges ahead of her – to teach others to do what she knows best -- she knows that the future will look different than the past.
In 2010, given her vast experience in disaster relief, Gal was asked to assist the Israeli Ministry of Home Front Defense in the founding of NEMA – Israel's national emergency management authority. She only consults with the government on a freelance basis, guaranteeing that she can continue to build up her organization fully and replicate her impact in fostering local solutions to humanitarian aid crises worldwide.