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Engagement with the private sector

The United Nations strongly believes in the power of private sector engagement and has a long history of working with the private sector. In recent years, OCHA and the international humanitarian community have been forming innovative partnerships with the private sector by leveraging on their local and industry expertise to strengthen emergency preparedness and response. This collaboration has become more and more important given that the number of people affected by humanitarian crises continues to increase. It has become clear that the complexity of the world’s emergencies requires the coordinated action of diverse actors including the private sector.

Connecting Business Initiative

Launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, the Connecting Business initiative (CBi) is a joint initiative between OCHA and UNDP that engages the private sector at the intersection of the humanitarian, development and peace agendas. The initiative aims to transform the way the private sector engages before, during and after emergencies, increasing the scale and effectiveness of the response in a coordinated manner. By working together with and supporting private sector networks around the world, CBi strengthens strategic engagement of the private sector in disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness, response and recovery at societal, sectoral and company level, and connects the private sector with national, regional and international coordination structures.

OCHA’s work with the private sector is guided by the principles of the United Nations Global Compact, the Secretary-General’s guidelines on cooperation between the United Nations and the Business Sector, OCHA-WEF Guiding Principles for Public-Private Collaboration for Humanitarian Action and the Agenda for Humanity.

Why does the private sector engage in emergencies?

"Mama Safi" opened a bakery in Kakuma camp, Kenya, to support her family. In March 2016, World Vision International, OCHA and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, launched the Humanitarian Private Sector Partnerships Platform in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, to give humanitarians, businesses and Government actors an opportunity to help refugees become self-reliant in sustainable, cost-effective ways. Aid agencies, private sector partners and Governments in East Africa are now recognizing that this model could work on a large scale to help people become more resilient in humanitarian crises. Credit: UNHCR

The private sector has long been a major contributor to humanitarian action. It is increasingly being recognised as a major stakeholder alongside aid agencies and governments in multiple aspects of humanitarian action. At the community level, businesses have long aided communities affected by crises, frequently use their materials and mobilizing their staff to help affected populations. Large national, regional and multinational firms are also closely involved in supporting humanitarian objectives, whether indirectly, by resuming operations in crisis affected areas, or directly by providing cash and in-kind donations of goods and services. Despite a former tendency for aid agencies to view businesses as prospective donors, their greatest direct contribution has come in the form of new technologies and other innovations as well as the sharing of technical expertise. Entire elements of humanitarian action, including cash transfers, telecommunications and logistics, have been transformed as businesses have become increasingly involved.

There is a strong rationale for the private sector to collaborate with the humanitarian community. The private sector is indeed a fundamental component of affected communities. Private sector interests are often equally vulnerable to a natural disaster or the impact of conflict. Local business operations, whether of SMEs or multinationals, are among the first to be hit by such emergencies. Their infrastructure, supply chains, workforce, and markets can all be severely affected. There is a business case for engagement; by preparing for and responding to emergencies, businesses can ensure that their operations will not be severely affected by emergencies. In addition, engagement in humanitarian action ensures an increase in staff engagement and satisfaction, strengthening of community resilience, prosperity and sustainable development as well as building of relationships with communities.

These are some reasons for the private sector to engage in emergencies:

Save lives: Natural disasters, political crises and chronic emergencies are killing millions of people each year. They rob individuals and nations of their potential by destroying local economies, infrastructure and livelihoods. By engaging in emergencies, businesses can guarantee that their efforts will play a key role in reducing the suffering of people in vulnerable communities and these efforts will be seen by customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

Strengthen brands: Consumers expect their favourite brands to not only satisfactorily deliver products and services but to have a strong Corporate Social Responsibility that enables them to help the needy. By engaging in emergencies, businesses associate their brands with strengthening emergency preparedness and response, reinforce their brands and attract more customers.

Motivate staff: Businesses report that one of the biggest incentives for engaging in humanitarian action is to motivate their employees. By engaging in emergencies and giving employees the opportunity to save lives in a crisis, businesses not only meet their Corporate Social Responsibility objectives but also meet their business objectives by increasing staff retention, staff morale and loyalty as well as recruitment of talent.

Foster innovation: Business know how, expertise and skills can play an important role in saving lives in crises. Armed with cutting-edge and state-of-the-art technology, businesses can help the humanitarian community approach challenges in novel and creative ways - leading to innovation for both the humanitarian community and business.

Key facts

 Engaging in humanitarian action enables companies to save lives, rebuild local economies in vulnerable communities, and improve livelihoods- all the while meeting CSR and business objectives

 Businesses are a major contributor to humanitarian response - through financial or in-kind contributions and pro-bono services