Alumna Heads Airbnb’s Disaster Relief

Alumna Heads Airbnb’s Disaster Relief

Her life is one disaster after another. As head of Airbnb’s global disaster response and relief efforts, Kellie Bentz ’04 is always in crisis mode. Just today, as she sits down for an interview inside Airbnb’s airy San Francisco office, she’s “activated” for four different events, from bush fires in Australia to tornadoes in Alabama.

“It’s never a dull moment around here, that’s for sure,” she says. “Today is pretty typical. We’re in 191 countries, so, at any given time, we’re looking at anything from five to 20 events a day.”

Overseeing a global team of 12 between four regions and another six who provide remote support, Bentz is responsible for working with Airbnb’s community of over 3 million hosts to make their homes available for free to those displaced by a disaster, as well as the responders who need accommodations while helping the area recover.

“My team drills in and creates a geofence around that area, and then we’re able to quickly send an email to all hosts in that region,” she says. “We have a huge community of generous hosts who want to help.”

Though, in her previous roles, she has been known to parachute in, Bentz does not typically go to the site of the disaster or event. She has governmental and nonprofit partners on the ground to help her team understand “the ground truth,” in addition to three remote operations teams around the globe who feed Bentz and her team information so they can understand how best to support the relief efforts. Bentz also spends a fair amount of time doing media interviews, mostly with local outlets and TV stations, to get the word out about their charitable efforts, which amount to a few million dollars a year in waived fees.

Hopefully 2017 – the year of the Mexico City earthquake, the Las Vegas shooting and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, among other tragedies – will forever be her busiest year ever. “That was pretty intense,” she says. “I can’t even tell you how many interviews I did, but they aren’t about patting ourselves on the back. This is about our generous hosts and getting the word out.”

Bentz has been building out the program since she started at Airbnb in 2015 to where hosts now open their homes for refugees and displaced persons seeking asylum, as well as medical patients and their families who have to travel.

Prior to Airbnb, she was leading the global disaster response program for Points of Light, the largest volunteer network, before managing Target’s global crisis management program. A double major in corporate communications and business administration at the College, Bentz, who grew up in Cincinnati, started down her career path with an AmeriCorps stint in Atlanta after graduation. She was helping to develop its alumni organization when Hurricane Katrina hit, and the organization tasked her with building a project in New Orleans to engage alumni of AmeriCorps in relief efforts.

“Airbnb is still very new to the space, but I’m proud to work for an organization that is willing to dive deep into this work because I think there’s so many ripple effects we can have with it across the industry,” she says. “I don’t think I would have ever thought I would be in the disaster space working in Silicon Valley for Airbnb and living in the Bay Area. I don’t think I would have foreseen that 15 years ago when I was at CofC. I’m definitely surprised where my career has taken me.”

Featured image of Kellie Bentz by Mike Ledford.