HBS Students and Harvard University Aid Tsunami Disaster Relief Effort

The full extent of the devastation in Asia as a result of the recent Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent Tsunami continues to unfold. To date, the only certainty is that the destruction has been enormous, with over a hundred and fifty thousand dead and several million left homeless, fighting for survival in destroyed communities. It will take years for the affected people, countries, and economies to recover.

Regrettably, many at HBS have been affected by this tragedy. Though we were fortunate not to lose any members of the HBS community in the Tsunami, a number of students, faculty and staff lost friends and family members in the disaster and are now also dealing with the devastating losses in their home countries.

EC Nayana Mawilmada (OJ) is one such student. A native of Sri Lanka – one of the worst affected countries – Nayana lost members of his extended family in the Tsunami. Nayana comments, “in Sri Lanka, the tsunami killed over 30,000 people, including several I know, and left more than a million people (5% of the population) homeless. It also destroyed about 75% of the nation’s fishing fleet, 30% of all hotel rooms, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure. In economic terms, Sri Lanka has truly borne the brunt of this disaster.”

In response to the disaster, he is now working to channel resources to his country. He launched an e-mail campaign to raise money for the Red Cross the day after the disaster and within the first week was able to raise over $40,000. Since then, Harvard University has endorsed the channel he initially opened with the Boston Red Cross and has also offered to match contributions up to $100 made by students, faculty, and staff. By January 12, the Harvard community channel of the Boston Red Cross had recorded nearly $75,000 in contributions, before matching.

Nayana is also working with HelpSL.org, a web portal established just hours after the Tsunami by a group of young Sri Lankans dispersed around the US. The site serves as a worldwide clearinghouse for the latest information about missing persons, resources needed, and updates about the relief efforts in Sri Lanka. “HelpSL.org now gets over 50,000 hits a day, and has been instrumental in connecting individual donors with organizations active on the ground. We have channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars towards the relief effort” says Nayana.

Several HBS students are planning activities to continue to support relief efforts. “Emergency relief and supplies seem to be flowing reasonably well” Nayana continues. “Now, we need to focus on efforts that will help to get people back on their feet. Even though the big donors are now stepping in, thousands of people will still fall through the cracks. Smaller donors [like the HBS community] can have tangible impact by targeting these groups.” Before attending HBS, Nayana worked for Asian Development Bank, the biggest donor to the Sri Lankan government.

As the relief efforts continue, the Harbus will continue to provide updates and further information on how readers can help. HBS also plans to continue its efforts to address the disaster on many levels. According to Dean Clark in his letter to the HBS Community, plans include the creation of a website through Baker Library with useful reference materials and timely media stories as well as an effort among the administration and faculty to explore opportunities to address the tragedy on an academic level.

The HBS iSite,”MBA Coming Together: Information & Resources After the 12/26 Tsunami Disaster” contains information about the University’s gift matching program (up to $100) and links to other relief information and resources, such as a guide for selecting good organizations for giving, counseling and support resources within the University, and discussion boards.

Please visit:

Additionally, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers has invited students with additional ideas about how Harvard can tap its academic resources in ways that might be of assistance in South Asia and Africa, to share them at: tsunamiresponse@harvard.edu.