Further reading

The Changing Humanitarian Landscape and the Role of the Private Sector


By: Charlotta Benedek, OCHA

The size and number of humanitarian emergencies across the world continues to grow, testing our capacity and ability to respond effectively. From the Sahel to Syria, from South Sudan to South Central Somalia, from Typhoon Bopha to Typhoon Yolanda, from renewed conflict in Myanmar to deepening instability in the DRC, needs associated with disasters and conflicts continue to grow year after year.

Moreover, the number of people affected by humanitarian crises has almost doubled over the past decade and is expected to keep rising. Meanwhile, the cost of international humanitarian aid has increased 430 percent from 2004 to 2013.In 2013, the humanitarian community struggled to respond to three simultaneous system-wide emergencies; Syria, the Philippines and Central African Republic. 2014 had already seen multiple and severe humanitarian crises threatening or affecting the lives of millions of people, with the UN assessing that over US$13 billion was needed to reach 52 million people in need in 17 countries. These figures only represent a fraction of the total life-saving humanitarian action being provided globally – at the front line by affected communities themselves, by national governments, by neighboring states and host communities, and through other formal and informal networks around the world.

The broader political context in which we do our work is also changing. Relative wealth and power of nations is shifting, from west to east, and north to south. The era when the so-called international humanitarian system was dominated by a few countries and aid agencies from the west is over. Instead, we see a proliferation of actors emerging from national and regional contexts onto the global stage: charitable and aid organizations, donor agencies, business partners and, in this globalized world, a burgeoning of new technologies and fresh ideas which offer new perspectives and challenge established systems for aid delivery and relief coordination.

We also see an increase of regional-level policies and response mechanisms, with both regional organizations and national governments seeking more robust roles in disaster management and humanitarian response. Responding to the threat of climate change and related human-induced hazards, many regional organizations have developed Emergency Response Teams and are working to set up humanitarian funds, policies and coordination frameworks. They are also playing increasingly active roles in harnessing and coordinating capacities among their respective member states to prepare for, and respond to disasters and emergencies.

In the face of such challenges and trends, humanitarians are being asked to do more and at a greater cost than ever before. This approach, however, is unsustainable over the long-term and a shift towards a more anticipatory model of emergency aid is needed that aims to prevent crises and build the resilience of communities to face recurrent disasters.

For the United Nations to properly fulfil its mandate to protect and assist people in need, it must forge effective partnerships with others, including the private sector, in order to maximize the effectiveness of approaches. Business leaders are increasingly seeking systematic and predictable ways to channel in-house capabilities and resources towards humanitarian causes, both in advance, during and in the aftermath of emergencies. For businesses there is a wide array of incentives to engage in humanitarian work, starting with obvious philanthropic motives. But there are also core corporate interests at stake in the effort to prepare and respond better to crises: businesses see the value in enhancing employee motivation, rebuilding and extending current and future markets, and ensuring current and future brand loyalty, to name just a few. In fact, according to recent research, private sector funding as a share of the total humanitarian response grew from 17 per cent in 2006 to 32 per cent in 2010 (totaling US$5.8 billion that year). More recently, businesses have played a critical role in the Typhoon Haiyan response, with $158 million in cash and in kind donations provided. Moreover, private individuals and organizations are the biggest donor towards the Strategic Response Plan (30 per cent), and the biggest donor overall.

We are also witnessing a growth in innovative strategic partnerships, where companies are contributing core business expertise and in-kind services to develop and extend the reach of traditional humanitarian actors. These developments and the prospects of forging deeper partnerships with the private sector are much welcome and are signs of the emergence of a truly global commitment to humanitarianism. Diversification can improve access, ensure more culturally and contextually relevant responses and can strengthen response through an injection of disruptive thinking, including business insight and innovation. But it also puts pressure on our collective capacity and ability to coordinate with each other. And a lack of coordination can lead to competition, fragmentation and – if nothing is done to join the dots – less effective or less principled responses, with more gaps, more duplication, and less learning.

To deliver coherent and timely assistance, we need to work with others to build coordination and inter-operability, to help construct an understanding of humanitarian principles and international standards, norms and mechanisms, so we can work alongside – in partnership – for more effective outcomes. We must reach out to find and replicate best practice, identify promising innovations for the future, while strengthening the best aspects of the response systems that exist today and ensuring that these are inter-operable. No one organization can do this alone, which is why we need to build alliances and networks, in all regions of the world.
Humanitarian response needs to be diverse and inclusive so as to take advantage of all available skills and resources – from local to multilateral, national to regional, public to private. To do this we need to both regionalize and localize action, and facilitate the development of new and dynamic relationships that will mitigate risks caused by disasters, encourage better and more people-centered and contextualized business planning, think through new ways to lessen the impact of crises and to promote as rapid as possible a return to normality, including the quick re-establishment of markets.

OCHA – with its coordinating mandate, principles of neutrality and impartiality, and the convening power of the UN – can help in this effort to connect, convene and support partners who have the ambition and capacity to contribute to humanitarian action. OCHA is custodian of tried and tested humanitarian tools and services provided to partners, such as affected governments, to support response efforts. Many of these are based on an understanding of cooperation where partners feel ownership and a willingness to contribute their expertise while looking to the United Nations to provide a normative framework, coordination and leadership.

To move forward with stronger partnerships, we need to create a space where we can develop common language around what it is we are trying to do, learn from each other about successes, motivations, standards and, perhaps most importantly, innovation, and work towards new solutions and better humanitarian outcomes for people in need. In the run up to the World Humanitarian Summit, which will be convened in Istanbul by the UN Secretary-General in 2016, OCHA is therefore planning to engage a wide variety of partners to work together on promoting more effective and predictable business engagement in emergency preparedness and response. The output of these consultations will be presented as part of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in 2016.

The project builds on several parallel workstreams including deliberations of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Agenda Council on Catastrophic Risks; informal consultations led by OCHA at WEF meetings and summits in 2013 and 2014; country studies commissioned from leading think-tanks and funded by the UK government on business engagement in preparedness and response; deployment of a dedicated private sector focal points to support business engagement with the humanitarian response in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan; and discussions within the framework of the UN’s Private Sector Focal Points network.

Findings so far have confirmed that many private sector actors have an interest and capacity to collaborate more effectively before, during and after emergencies to ensure affected peoples’ needs are met. However, the research has also outlined a number of impediments, challenges and recommendations, including the need to: build an evidence base, with performance metrics, to demonstrate the impact public-private initiatives have had on the lives of crisis-affected people; share best practice on commercial and pro-bono partnerships (regional and country level) between the humanitarian community and business to elucidate further opportunities and provide tangible roadmaps for such collaborations; develop web-based and in-person collaboration platforms at the country level to initiate connections and showcase private sector and aid agency capacities; establish and strengthen relationships with private sector business platforms in specific disaster-prone countries (such as Chambers of Commerce) in advance of emergencies, in order to engage them more effectively at the time of the crisis and explain to their members how they might be involved in humanitarian response.

Building on these and other findings, OCHA will now launch a series of consultations, at both global and regional level, affiliated to upcoming World Humanitarian Summit regional consultations and other regional meetings. The consultations will involve regional organizations, governments, UN humanitarian agencies, private sector platforms/networks (e.g., the UN Global Compact), private sector associations (e.g., chambers of commerce or industry associations) and individual businesses. At the same time, initial interim recommendations will be tested and some innovative approaches and tools piloted in order to deliver tangible activities in the run up to 2016. The consultations will also capture – at both regional and global level – a realistic sense of which avenues are worth pursuing, help map out concrete deliverables and identify which private sector actors are ready to help take the findings forward.

The conclusions of the project, including new partnerships, ways of working, and platforms for connecting needs with support, will be presented at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016
For more information, please contact: Charlotta Benedek, Private Sector Section, Partnerships and Resource Mobilization Branch, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).