Humanitarian Action with Business

By Dr. Kathryn Taetzsch, Global Humanitarian Operations/ Global Rapid Response Team, World Vision International

Humanitarian Action with Business

Image: Kakuma refugee camp in the desert in NW Kenya, Somali refugee traders’ shop in the Kakuma camp

By Dr. Kathryn Taetzsch, Senior Relief Coordinator & Private Sector Partnerships Lead, Global Humanitarian Operations/ Global Rapid Response Team, World Vision International

“Ending Need” cannot work without “Connecting Business” from community to global levels, identifying gaps, disaster affected communities’ needs and business engagement and co-creation opportunities – therefore, linking multi-stakeholder networks through more strategic and inclusive coordination, info-sharing, networking and partnering opportunities is highly relevant and needed now. The Humanitarian Private Sector Partnership Platform (HPPP) for East Africa, launched in Nairobi on 8 March 2016, aims at fostering this agile, effective and innovative cross-sector partnering opportunity.

“The economic impact of natural hazards has risen from USD 10 billion per annum in 1975 to almost USD 400 billion in 2011.” (DFID & PwC, 2013) – many local business that could drive recovery efforts are not strengthened to be part of Disaster Management opportunities, while, in East Africa alone, regional financial services had transactions beyond US$ 1 billion (2014, through mobile money). The cost of international humanitarian aid has increased by 430 percent from 2004 to 2013 (GHA Report 2015). In 2016, according to the UN Humanitarian Partners Appeal, a record of US$ 20 billion funding requirement for more than 87.6 million most vulnerable people paints a new dramatic picture – with a sobering acknowledgement that humanitarian actors require also other stakeholders, e.g. business, to address the issue – not limited to a role of “philanthropic ATM” but to contribute to resilience and economic disaster-proofing and recovery – while CSR will always play a critical role in disaster response.

The costs of disasters (loss of life, destruction of livelihoods and social fabric) are often preventable or can at least be reduced, if different sectors work together. Business has often not been able (or welcome) to access and meaningfully contribute to as well as question humanitarian actors in relevant fora. At the same time, humanitarian actors often have not been successful in defining what shared-value-engagement (beyond the typical “(sub-)contractual” collaboration with business entities could look like or communities experienced negative, exploitative approaches by some business entities.

Systematic mapping of market needs among disaster-prone or -affected vulnerable households and communities has not been extended to SME, local, national and multi-national business’ offerings of relevant goods, services, assets, expertise for those that try to prepare for or survive the impact of disaster. Pre-positioning partnerships long before disaster strikes by getting to know “each other’s principles, values, business objectives and modi operandi” to create shared value – is essential and part of this are due diligence processes. Promotion of ethical principled humanitarian business action based on facilitation of joint learning, mutual understanding of roles and responsibilities, joint monitoring and evaluation, fostering impact measurement (also of the partnership itself) and thus, more transparency and accountability are key parameters for success. Applying the same as part of a jointly agreed framework/ charter, will be a better base for creating joint investment, sometimes advocating for a better enabling environment through regulatory frameworks, resulting in improved self-reliance of disaster prone/ -affected communities through profitability for business as part of – or – with communities.

Then, a solid move towards market-linked forms of humanitarian assistance, DRR programming, for example cash/ voucher based programming, which strengthen local enterprises and their connection to regional and global opportunities in disaster management is an effective way of more sustainably addressing needs and supporting (local) business continuity in times of crises: This includes operating ability, and competitiveness during times of shock, but also the preparedness, security, and insurability of their customers, stakeholders and broader society – as well as business entry, innovative design of products and services for and by most vulnerable community (business people) and resilience in chronically fragile contexts and implies asks to humanitarian stakeholders for their value-proposition to these partnerships. But with existing information gaps – on needs and opportunities, no reference-grid for principled action, nor intentional complementarity or synergy between sector contributions, another unique point of engagement will be missed.

Image: Kakuma refugee camp in the desert in NW Kenya, food stuff for sale by refugee traders in the camp

For too long, and especially in protracted complex crises (e.g. multi-year displacements) – have the international community, crises-affected and donor Governments often neglected strategic cross-sector coordination, pre-positioning of partnerships, expertise, reach, resources, promoting co-creation of products and services with business for, with and by disaster-affected communities. There is also a humanitarian-development nexus to be promoted by cross-sector partnering as part of disaster response, recovery and development planning. Strengthening local economic growth for displaced in chronic disaster contexts in collaboration with micro-finance institutions and multi-lateral partners opens new value-propositions to host communities, donors and with “joint-venture” opportunities in co-creating products and services for disaster affected people promotes possible “win-win” outcomes for all involved as an end goal.

The HPPP stakeholder engagement aims at addressing this – for example during a “business2business” field visit with national and multi-national company representatives and humanitarians to Ethiopian refugee entrepreneur, Mesfin (in one of Kenya’s largest and oldest refugee camps) is one good example. He started some years ago as small food vendor to now becoming one of the largest whole-sale business people in the camp with an average income of US$ 10.000/ month and more than 30 employees from among the refugee and the hosting community. He is receiving increasing support from national business entities – such as Equity Bank – providing basic financial advise and services in a very remote crises-affected area. Another business, Ushahidi, (among the key supporters for the HPPP), born out of a technology online start-up in Kenya, with now global impact for aid efficiency and effectiveness in sudden onset humanitarian crises – showcases that with a strong understanding and appreciation of local community leadership and real-time information sharing via crowdsourcing tools, is enabling communities and international community as humanitarian first responders to work in a more coordinated and effective, impactful manner to save and rebuild lives. These and numerous other examples highlight that local to global cross-sector coordination and strengthened partnering are in–demand and that interactive – whether digital or Face-to-Face networks – will play a significant role in the future.

The HPPP that started with 160 delegates from 8 UN agencies, local and multi-national business representatives, civil society, academia and Government is complemented by an e-portal capturing on “who is doing/ offering/ in need of- what/ where”. It will facilitate panel discussions, global and local fora and partnering trainings on a regular basis to address impact of natural disasters, long-term emergencies due to conflict, and complex urban and out-of-camp displacement situations as identified by the WHS process and the HPPP will also be part of the global “Connecting Business Initiative.”

While the UN Secretary General has recently called on state, non-state actors, including business, to take the unique opportunity of the WHS in Istanbul on 23/24 May 2016, for commitments to significantly enhance efforts to increase people’s resilience and strengthen local and national capacities – for 125 Mio people living in immediate humanitarian crises – by working differently to reduce risk and vulnerability, it is every one of us, to actually better support linkages, replicate networks for principled humanitarian – local, national and multinational business to make it happen.

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