The Nitty Gritty of Disaster Relief

Doctors Without Borders keeps reserves liquid

Remi Obert of Doctors Without Borders Remi Obert of Doctors Without Borders

Mobilizing cash quickly, safely and cost-effectively during a disaster is unfamiliar territory for most corporate treasurers. But Remi Obert, director of finance for the French branch of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the humanitarian aid organization, does it all the time. It’s his job to turn cash into urgently needed medical equipment and supplies for devastated areas like Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and Japan in the wake of this year’s disasters.

The secret, Obert says, is to start with international reserves (typically six to nine months' expenditures, or $400 million to $600 million) that can be monetized and moved quickly, centralize as much of the spending as possible at headquarters, and organize a flexible, responsive network of global accounts for receiving and concentrating donations.

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