The humanitarian community has tended to see the private sector principally as a source of goods, services, philanthropy and periodic ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) initiatives. While one cannot deny the importance of these types of activities for the humanitarian sector, a more comprehensive understanding of the humanitarian-private sector interface must consider businesses’ broader role in reducing vulnerability. How can the private sector effectively engage with preparedness and emergency response and how can it further humanitarian objectives within the scope of its ‘core competencies and business’?.

This question is the basis of a research project that HFP is currently undertaking in collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), UN OCHA and Vantage Partners, August 2013-March 2014. The project includes three field-based case studies in Kenya, Jordan and Indonesia along with a Strategy and Operational Analysis concerning Haiti. The findings and recommendations from the country analysis will be incorporated into UN OCHA’s strategy for Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships to Enhance Preparedness and Response, which will be presented at the World Economic Forum in January 2014.

Preparedness is a particular theme that will be explored in the research on the basis that the private sector can engage in the humanitarian sphere in ways that go beyond response and that having role clarity, relationships and protocols in place prior to a disaster event is essential to effective response. As feasible, the research will explore how the private sector incorporates risk management issues into its own business models, including the types of preparedness provisions it considers and undertakes with respect to its own business continuity and sustainability. It will also be important to explore how the private sector’s own initiatives currently link to national government preparedness mechanisms or with initiatives of the international humanitarian system and ways this interaction can be strengthened .

HFP’s prior work on this topic has noted the need to establish more regular in-country opportunities for governments, private sector and humanitarian representatives to explore complementary activities and to proactively include the private sector in regional and national level joint UN and government preparedness processes.1 While there may be agreement in principle to these ideas, there are several barriers which make this difficult to put into practice. These relate to timescales for engagement, differences in terminology, lack of common approaches to assess and define comparative advantage and challenges with respect to how to practically foster a more inclusive approach to preparedness. These types of barriers and opportunities, as well as others, will be further tested and explored in the research and factored into the development of an action oriented agenda for the future. As the study progresses in the next few months further observations and findings on this topic will be forthcoming.

1 Platforms for Private Sector-Humanitarian Engagement, Humanitarian Futures Programme, 2012, p. 23.