‘Group of Ten’ looks to private sector engagement to foster humanitarian innovation
A group of ten private sector representatives met under the auspices of the NGO, People in Conflict, HFP and the UK’s Department for International Development to discuss ways that private sector innovation and innovative practices can be identified and used to enhance humanitarian action.
The 7 March meeting held in London was intended in the first instance to propose ways that the interest of the private sector can be mobilised towards that end, and then to agree on measures to explore such interest more consistently and systematically. The key conclusions and recommendations arising out of that meeting included:
- One way to look at unfolding humanitarian challenges was through the lens of resilience, a concept broadly understood by the private sector as well as by the humanitarian and development sectors. Though the term, resilience, needs greater precision when it comes to operational reality, it relates closely to the private sector’s focus on “business continuity and sustainability;”
- While the challenge of future threats was a concern for all, it was felt that “the private sector was not perceived to be involved in humanitarian crises as part of its core work.” And, in that context, it was felt that “ad hoc” emergency response was probably not the best use of private sector capacities. It was felt that partners in the humanitarian sector are normally not selected by the private sector with any strategic objective in mind, and therefore private sector organisations need to be more proactive in developing more appropriate, strategic partnerships;
- The private sector’s reasons for becoming involved in humanitarian action spans a range of motives. Immediate profit is by no means the sole criterion, and the private sector also sees benefits arising from the long game where the eventual advantages of engaging with government and influencing policy are a form of commercial rationale. That said, the proverbial bottom line frequently gives way to charitable causes, though in the final analysis companies have to be accountable to their shareholders;
- If, however, there is a call for a more systematic and consistent approach for bringing the private sector’s capacities for innovation and innovative practices into the humanitarian sector, then there will have to be a clear explanation about “the nature of the problem.” What, in other words, are the issues that DFID and other concerned parties anticipate will have to be faced, and in what ways might private sector innovation and innovative practices prove of assistance?
- In that context, the meeting participants felt that a far better appreciation of what the humanitarian sector meant by innovation and innovative practices was required. Similarly, greater clarity was needed when it came to the “entry point” for private sector engagement. Under the rubric of resilience, was the private sector being asked to look at prevention, disaster risk reduction, preparedness planning or even response?
- When asking for greater clarity, who would be defining the problem? Would this be the purview of the humanitarian sector, or the responsibility of the private and humanitarian sectors together? And, in this context, who and what is the “private sector”?
- The proposal for engaging the private sector’s innovations and innovative capacities needs to be framed around a clear question, or, precise problem statement. This should be seen in terms of “a problem to solve,” and should articulate two strands – risks and the consequences if these risks manifest themselves. This was seen as the approach that the private sector would take for dealing with risks in their own companies.
- In so saying the problem statement would have to be framed in such a way that it can be understood by those who are not familiar with humanitarian issues. At the same time, the problem needs also to reflect “a broader transformational world and how is it changing and what are the implications for risks and crisis challenges”;
- There, too, needs to be clarity about the use of private sector innovation and innovative practices, and, therefore, one should “show case” three or four examples of private sector innovation in humanitarian action, e.g. NetHope, satellite bands, Tropical Storm Tracker funded by Aon Benfield and used in Cyclone Sidr, the delivery systems developed by UPS and Walmart;
- Based upon these recommendations, participants proposed that a follow-up workshop be organised as soon as possible, and that the focus of that workshop be on “the ten things worth solving.” The proposed participants would include country-level CEOs and corporate strategy teams;
- A proposal incorporating the recommendations above would be developed by the Humanitarian Futures Programme, King’s College, London, with the support of Post-Conflict Peoples and DFID, and will be forwarded to Group of Ten participants by the third week in April. It was suggested that the follow-up workshop should take place towards the end of May or beginning of June, though some participants noted that “diaries [of busy executives] would already be filled for this period.”