NGO: Direct Relief International

Direct Relief International’s (DRI) mission is to improve the health of people living in developing countries and those who are victims of natural disasters, war, and civil unrest.  They work to strengthen indigenous health efforts of their international partners, such as NGOs and hospitals, who provide health services to people in rural areas that are poor, lack health infrastructure, and where severe health challenges exist, by providing essential material resources—medicines, supplies and equipment.  They are based out of a 35,000 square foot warehouse in Santa Barbara, California and have 24 full time staff, 4 part-time employees, and over 400 volunteers who assist in all functions.

William Zimdin, a wealthy Estonian immigrant, founded DRI in 1948.  In the 1960’s, As requests for health related assistance grew, DRI turned its focus from micro-loans to providing disadvantaged populations in medically underserved communities throughout the world proper medical assistance.
Upon obtaining the proper licenses, DRI began acting as a wholesale pharmacy and securing medicine prescriptions worldwide.  They have created strong ties with US health care companies, which have long supported their efforts by donating pharmaceuticals and other medical resources.  Johnson and Johnson is one of many such companies.  J&J’s “produce to give” program, in which J&J manufacture products specifically to make them available to charitable causes that lack financial means to purchase them.  DRI’s funding comes mainly from corporations, foundations, and individuals and they pride themselves on being non-sectarian, non-governmental, and apolitical.  All programs are provided in a non-discriminatory manner, without regard to political affiliation, religious belief, or ethnic identity.

Their experience ranges from refugee assistance in post-war Europe, to assisting Tibetan refugees, and just recently assisting with natural disasters such as the recent tsunami.  In 2003, DRI provided over $93 million worth of medicines, equipment, and medical supplies to partner organizations in 62 countries – enough material for 10.6 million people.  Charity Navigator, a top independent evaluator of non-profits’ financial health and performance gave DRI it’s highest rating, four stars, in October 2004.  This means the charity’s organizational efficiency and organizational capacity “exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its cause”.  This $93 million in assistance (wholesale value of medicines, supplies, and equipment) was done on only $3 million in expenses.  They have maintained among the lowest in expense ratios for fundraising and administrations of all US charities.  Through nine months of 2004, DRI has provided $60 million in assistance to 52 countries, such as local health facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa, Nicaragua, and to Haiti and the Caribbean to aid in to the floods and hurricanes that struck those areas.  In December 2004, DRI was one of only twelve US charities to receive 100% fundraising efficiency rating for 2003 from Forbes Magazine.   Finally, Consumers Digest gave them a 99% program efficiency for 2002.

University of Hawaii at Manoa; Center of Excellence in DMHA; ICRC

Contact Information

Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance
University of Hawai'i at Manoa
2424 Maile Way, Saunders Hall 118
Honolulu, HI 96822