Growing up in Germany after World War II, Bettina Stix is familiar with how the impacts of disasters can create forced migration, exacerbate social divides, and cause economic distress—in fact, everyone on the small, four-person Disaster Relief by Amazon team comes from a refugee background.
“All of us are definitely in some way or form shaped by our parents’ and grandparents’ experiences of being on the move, and being threatened by disasters,” she says.
Stix has been with Amazon almost 21 years in a variety of roles: shifting from editor, to project manager, to operations and customer service, to spending eight years working on Prime. During this time, Stix started thinking about how she could put her skills to use for the customers that Amazon may not reach within normal programs.
“And I thought that we have so much that we can offer right now, that I want to turn all of this into a ‘second return of investment,’ as I like to call it, and make it available in some way to communities that cannot afford what they need.”
How Stix’s vision evolved is a testament to the powerful combination of Amazon’s logistics expertise, a dynamic global supply chain, passionate employees, dedicated non-profits, and generous Amazon customers around the world.
In 2004 a tsunami struck the Indian Ocean, killing over 200,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India.
“It was one of the biggest disasters at that time. So, I got a call from some of our developers who had families in India. They said, we put up a donation campaign on Amazon in the U.S. Can you help us build the ability for our customers to donate across our international websites?”
Within three days, Stix and the global team she gathered had launched donation campaigns on the Amazon homepages in Germany, the UK, France, and Japan. Combined, across the U.S., they collected $15 million from Amazon customers, which went to the International Red Cross.
“And so, this experience in 2004 had never left me.” Stix says. “So I thought: how can I transform that?”
Some years later, after developing products for Amazon Prime customers, Stix decided to develop a working backwards document, a common Amazon writing practice, for the project—she wrote up a fictitious New York Times article, describing a fictitious hurricane in Florida, and put together reasons why Amazon was well-positioned to create a disaster response team.
“I was expecting resistance because this was so out of the normal business lines,” Stix says, “but instead, I just ran into open doors. Everybody wanted to help me make it successful.”
Shortly after that, Stix got permission to start a team. That first year the team had its work cut out for it—three hurricanes hit North America and the Caribbean in 2017— Harvey, Maria, and Irma—and Mexico experienced major earthquakes, as well.
Since then, the disasters, along with Amazon’s ability to respond quickly, has only increased. This year alone, the team responded to 22 disasters—floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and more. Stix attributes the program’s success to creating an early response network with their non-profit partners.
Read more about disaster relief by Amazon at Global WA.