HFP’s Private Sector Challenge project with the Australian Civil Military Centre aims to enhance the understanding of civil‐military stakeholders on the contribution of the private sector in crisis situations, including its form and trajectories of engagement. As part of this the project, four country studies were undertaken to explore the operational realities of private sector engagement and collaboration in diverse disaster and conflict contexts, namely the Philippines, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Somalia. The Philippines and Indonesia represent two large and increasingly urbanised middle income countries (MICs) that are at extremely and increasingly at risk to complex disasters. They have well-established national preparedness and response systems and are committed to reducing disaster risk. Somalia and the Solomon Islands on the other hand, present two contrasting examples of peace building in fragile contexts. The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was deployed in 2003 following several earlier failed attempts at securing peace following the onset of the ‘tensions’ in 1998, which saw the private sector significantly weakened. Whilst in Somalia, the New Deal for Fragile States in theory promises the opportunity for uniquely Somali approaches to be the focus of peace and state-building efforts, in a context where the private sector is strong and has adapted impressive alternative systems for stability.
However, while these cases are very crisis and context specific, there are some overarching issues and insights that can be gleaned that inform the analysis overall.
The Private Sector
- There is a lack of understanding of what is meant by the private sector. National and local level private sector actors are undertaking considerable and critical risk management and state building activities that could offer partnering opportunities and lessons to other actors. However, currently these activities and capacities are not realised, with the ‘private sector’ more often than not equating to ‘multi-national corporations’ in the eyes of national governments and international actors.
Critically, as MICs increasingly manage crisis events internally, without assistance from the international community, they will increasingly turn to national actors such as the private sector for support. This is enhanced by the increasing access and use of technology in humanitarian action, which requires private sector expertise and innovative capacity. This further necessitates better understanding of the diversity of private sector actors and what they can offer.
- Private sector actors engage for a variety of motives. The private sector’s motives cannot be purely reduced to financial gain and distinguishing between motives related to, for example, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and core business interests can be complex. The private sector and its humanitarian counterparts operate in a highly competitive global marketplace, making the motives for engagement on the part of both sides complex and driven by a wide range of interests.
- Private sector actors are increasingly engaging in humanitarian action as part of core business. This research found a trend toward direct commercial engagement outside the humanitarian sphere, as part of core business, driven by concerns for its own business continuity or market viability, or as part of new market creation and business ventures.
- The lack of a common ‘language’ between private sector actors and humanitarian actors poses challenges for private sector engagement. In Indonesia, when asked about their preparedness or risk reduction activities most companies or private sector platforms instead referred to ‘business continuity’ and ‘sustainability.’ Some did not recognise any of their work as preparedness until the question was reframed using this language.
Frameworks and Roadmaps
- International and regional frameworks and mechanisms for engaging in crisis and fragile contexts need to be more inclusive of diverse actors, including the private sector. While economic reform was a major part of RAMSI’s role and the various security building frameworks for the Solomon Islands, RAMSI did not make a seat at the table for the private sector; nor did they feature private sector engagement as a major thrust of their strategy. Similarly, the New Deal for Fragile States has no clear strategic approach for engaging with the private sector, one of the few actors with a pan-Somalia presence, as part of the reconciliation process.
- National frameworks and approaches to disaster management fail to tap into and harness the capacities of diverse actors or seek to ensure alignment and harmonisation. Whilst examples exist of individual initiatives where the Indonesian government has engaged with the private sector, there is disconnect between these initiatives, with no jointly developed and operational roadmap existing to set the agenda for multi-actor communication or collaboration. In the Philippines, the new National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council framework has provided a template for stakeholder engagement. However, the components of this model are not known or understood by small medium enterprises, especially those located outside the capital.
- The ‘multi-actor perspective’ is missing from these frameworks. Both international roadmaps and national government frameworks tend to view the vast range of actors involved in humanitarian action not as a whole, but instead as individual and isolated sources of assistance. This is holding back systematic collaboration between actors, including between the private sector and the military.
- Context is critical. Without sufficient consideration of contextual factors such as legislative and governance frameworks, institutional arrangements for crisis management, and private sector diversity, international and national disaster management and peace-building frameworks risk failing to encapsulate practicalities, leaving underlying issues unresolved, or even undermining efforts. In the Solomon Islands, RAMSI’s framework missed key opportunities to connect with Chinese businesses, reflecting the failure of RAMSI advisors to understand the uniqueness of the local dynamics and the underlying causes of the ‘tensions’.
- There is a lack of tested and accepted mechanisms and processes to assess and assign comparative advantages of diverse actors in different crisis contexts. However:
- The utilisation of regional organisations can offer opportunities to engage the private sector more meaningfully. Regional bodies have arguably more context-specific experience with national private sectors than those external to the region and can help foster the practicalities of private sector engagement. It is widely perceived by Solomon Islanders that RAMSI could have better utilised the Pacific Islands Forum, Melanesian Spearhead Group and other regional sub-organisations.
- National platforms offer opportunities for enhanced and systematic private sector engagement and collaboration with civil-military actors. In Indonesia, collaboration between the private sector and the military is beginning to occur, and it is mainly taking place via personal connections and, crucially, platforms, which are thought to offer neutral fora without the fear of reputational risk or corruption. However, there is a need for the multitude of platforms to identify their shared objectives and complementary value-addeds so as to allow the groups to work more efficiently together.
- As governments, particularly in MICs, are changing the way they define and exercise their role in humanitarian action, it is also shifting the thinking and approach to collaboration with international humanitarian actors. International humanitarian actors will likely have to look to assume different roles in crises settings in MICs, such as Indonesia and Philippines, in the future. There could be a potential role for international humanitarian actors to help private sector actors understand ways of engaging with the diversity of actors involved in humanitarian action. This is the focus of a new joint study being conducted by the Humanitarian Futures Programme, Humanitarian Policy Group, Vantage Partners and UNOCHA.
Further information can be found in the upcoming report for HFP’s Private Sector Challenge project, expected to be completed by early December.