As cofounder of the Coalition for Global Hearing Health and chair of the International Society of Audiology's Humanitarian Audiology Committee, I receive hundreds of emails from hearing healthcare professionals asking two golden questions: “where can I get free hearing aids for donation to my cause” and “where are all the scholarships and grants to cover my expenses so that I can carry out my good cause?”
Many who reside in under-resourced regions are underemployed or unemployed, with little to no means of accessing health professionals’ services. Consequently, audiologists and other hearing healthcare professionals who deploy for short- or long-term programs in these areas will find themselves bearing the burden of providing the necessary supplies.
Though at first blush the task may appear daunting, some strategic long-term planning will help humanitarians accumulate enough supplies and funds to ensure a successful and sustainable program.
CONTACT LOCAL LEADERS
When providing humanitarian services, it's important to establish your role within the program. As suggested in previous articles from the Audiology Without Borders column, it is critical to connect with leaders and professionals in the community where you will be working. Let the local leaders and professionals determine what their needs ultimately will be.
As an experienced audiologist who resides and works in a developed country, it may be necessary for you to offer some insights and perspectives. For example, when having conversations with professionals from low- and middle-income countries about establishing a newborn hearing screening program “just like what is offered in the United States,” I am always compelled to share the challenges we have encountered in our resource-rich environment.
When there are limited resources and abject poverty, it is important to identify where health and educational priorities lie in the distribution of resources. It may initially be necessary to target the provision of resources to one age group. Is the highest priority in that particular area adults, so that they may gain employment and provide for a family; school-age children, so that they may be successful in their classes; or infants and toddlers, so that they may be competent communicators when they eventually go to school?
In the context of Texas, I often share some of our early frustrations from backlogged appointments and shortages of professional services and equipment when mandated newborn hearing screening commenced. These obstacles were eventually overcome, thanks to our infrastructure as well as informed and committed policy makers. Hence, humanitarians are helpful in starting the conversation that can only be completed by stakeholders living in the area.
GATHER DONATIONS OF SUPPLIES
At the forefront of every humanitarian program's objectives should be the end goal of developing a sustainable program with local vision and oversight. Initially, donation gathering may be necessary, but, ultimately, the program will need to have enough financial support to purchase equipment and support professional services.
When a program becomes sustainable, the local economy wins due to increased economic stability from community members contributing to the local infrastructure. The local community wins as people with hearing problems are no longer isolated by their communication disorders and can be a part of the community. The local programming leader wins as he or she becomes a recognized authority on communication disorders who is contributing positively to the community.
During the beginning years, viable means of obtaining supply donations are limited only by one's timidity or lack of imagination. As hearing healthcare professionals, we come into contact with a number of industry members, ranging from hearing aid battery distributors or manufacturers to manufacturers of hearing aids and hearing aid accessories. Potential avenues to pursue for product donations include:
- Manufacturer representatives: You already are known to the manufacturer representative who serves your practice at home. He or she has firsthand knowledge of your vision, ambition, and ability to pull off a viable program, and can advocate and promote your program to the corporate office or scavenge old supplies and donate directly to you. Sometimes, a manufacturer's representative may opt to vet your program by waiting a year to observe successes before promoting the program to the corporate office.
- Manufacturer corporate offices: When contacting a manufacturer's corporate offices, it may not be clear to you exactly which division to connect with for donations toward humanitarian programs. Manufacturers may direct all donation requests to marketing, or training and education, or research divisions. Often, product donations are budgeted in the same way as monetary donations—that is, according to fiscal year. When items for donation run out, the company may have to wait for the next fiscal period. Consequently, it is always best to approach corporate offices six to 12 months before you need the products.
- Hearing aid foundations: Many of the major manufacturers have foundations that promote their own unique philanthropic missions. Some foundations are not established for the provision of supplies or hearing aids but instead advocate good patient care or conduct their own outreach programs. Foundations that were established to provide funding or supplies often have an annual competitive application process that may require letters of recommendation. It is important to research which foundation will resonate with your program and therefore be more likely to donate.
- Stock or demo hearing aids: Announce to your audiology community that you are collecting outdated stock or demo hearing aids for use in your humanitarian program. Due to their low cost and minimal wear, hearing aid demos can be quite useful in humanitarian programs.
- Used hearing aids: A few hearing aid manufacturers will accept broken or old hearing aids and, in return, will provide your program with credit to “purchase” hearing aids and supplies. Let your patients, colleagues, friends, and general community know that you are collecting working or broken, old, used hearing aids of any size, shape, and color for your humanitarian program. After setting up a humanitarian account and accruing hearing aid credits, you can exchange credits for rebuilt hearing aids, hearing aid batteries or supplies, or audiometric equipment.
INCREASING ODDS OF SUCCESS
When pursuing donations from companies or foundations, it's important to put your best foot forward as you present your case for having a deserving program. Manufacturers and other donors are looking for ways to evaluate the viability of humanitarian programs that contact them for donations.
There is an Application for Hearing Aids/Supplies Assistance form created by the International Society of Audiology Humanitarian Audiology Committee (isa-audiology.org/humanitarian.asp http://www.isa-audiology.org/humanitarian.asp). When looking closely at the fields that must be completed, it becomes evident to the humanitarian that the application provides an opportunity to demonstrate to donors the program's long-term, sustainable plan that involves local partners invested in the success of the project. The humanitarian would submit the completed form directly to donors of his or her choice.
None of the previously discussed possibilities for product donations are exclusive of each other. Simultaneously connecting with various avenues of acquisition is a very viable option, and there may be additional sources of donated supplies. In this ever-changing electronic age, it is possible that we'll begin to see better ways to contact potential donors.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the other frequent question I'm asked is, “Where are all the scholarships and grants to cover my expenses so that I can carry out my good cause?” Part 2 of this article will look more closely at the available options.