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Sayma Khajehei

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Networking among nonprofits to build disaster recovery capacity in Puerto Rico

-Divya Chandrasekhar, Ivis Garcia, Sayma Khajehei

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Sayma Khajehei is a Ph.D. student in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah with a research interest in housing recovery from disasters. Her research examines the housing resiliency of socially vulnerable populations towards natural hazards. She completed her master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning at Iowa State University in 2019. In her master’s thesis, she explored the recovery challenges of public housing residents in Lumberton, North Carolina, in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, 2016. Before moving to the U.S. and seeking her degrees in planning, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Architectural engineering from Shiraz University and Shahid Beheshti University in Iran.

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While nonprofit organizations can play a crucial role in disaster recovery, few such organizations can successfully navigate disaster recovery uncertainty. Nonprofit organizations hold the highest stake in disaster recovery since they can motivate volunteerism, assess local needs, and distribute goods. Studies show that networking among nonprofit organizations helps them to respond to disasters better. But do they have the capacity to do this critical work? What actions do they take to enhance their post-disaster operations? We attempt to examine the ways and means in which inter-organizational networking improves post-disaster recovery efforts of community-based organizations. We applied a random survey approach using nonprofit organizations in Puerto Rico after the 2017 Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Findings show that there is a lot of energy in the nonprofit sector, nonprofits are not ‘hooked’ into formal recovery structures mainly relating to government, and Organizations want more help with the capacity building across the board.