It is 2035, and the multinational giant Omnilever has launched an assessment mission to Central Asia’s Ferghana Valley to evaluate the prospects for establishing a major parts division for outer space exploration. Formed by the interlocking states of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the valley is rich with natural resources, including rivers that generate extraordinary volumes of hydroelectric power. The challenge for the assessment mission is to determine whether the infrastructure, socio-economic conditions, human resource capacities as well as more traditional manufacturing considerations make the multi-billion investment worthwhile .

With that level of investment and complexity, Omnilever sends in a mission that has a wide range of expertise. Some of their wide-ranging concerns include issues of vulnerability and resilience, and with that in mind, Omnilever includes in its mission specialists in the humanitarian, military and private sector sectors. What do they find and what will they find frames this venture into future risks and response.

This quest is the basis of the simulation exercise which HFP, supported by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd and the World Food Programme, used to look for ways to overcome barriers that inhibit more effective understanding between key sectors that will increasingly be essential for addressing the highly complex crises for which the international community will have to prepare.

The 1 ½ day simulation exercise from 25-26 June 2013 brought together 30 senior participants from the military, humanitarian and private sectors to address three phases of the crisis as it unfolded. Offering an innovative approach for overcoming the barriers that inhibit cross sector understanding, the simulation’s overarching objectives were to:

  • assess how, through confronting the constraints arising from contending institutional concepts, customs and communications and capacities, the different sectors found ways to understand each other’s “language”;
  • identify their respective value-addeds and comparative advantages;
  • demonstrate how a range of capacities from “non-traditional” humanitarian actors can enhance the ways that the international community can prepare for and respond to the growing number and types of humanitarian crises.

While there is increasing awareness across the international community that such diverse actors as the military and private sector have significant contributions to make to humanitarian action both in terms of their expertise and approaches to innovation and strategic planning, there remains a deep lack of understanding as to how and what this actually means in practice.

While much of the current debate surrounding civil-military issues concerns difficulties arising in operational setting, HFP’s approach seeks to use the simulation as a tool to create the space needed to promote greater understanding about the concepts, language, value-added and comparative advantages of the military, private and humanitarian sectors, before one even begins to think about the operational.

The first demonstration of the exercise in London illustrated that while there is still much work to be done in order to establish the simulation as a tool for promoting cross-sector understanding, the foundations are certainly there, and will be developed over the course of 2013. Though it was clear that sectors were constrained by a certain degree of “institutional DNA”, the exercise demonstrated the value of observing the means through which these differences were overcome and highlighted the opportunities to overcome the recognised and possibly potential barriers to cross-sector understanding.

The next step of the journey will see the simulation being developed and taken to other “testing grounds”, beginning with Australia in October 2013

Simultaneously, as part of the overarching HFP led project, Translating Military Capacities for Humanitarian Action, a final project report will be produced by October 2013. The report will detail the findings and learning from over two year’s worth of research on this theme, including focus groups, key informant interviews and simulation exercises. The findings of the report will be presented in a workshop planned for mid-November 2013, where participants will include high-level representatives from the military, humanitarian and private sectors. The aim of this high level forum is to seek endorsement of the project findings and the simulation as a tool for cross sector collaboration.

For the full simulation report and further details on the project please contact Charlotte Crabtree on

Charlotte Crabtree, HFP