Aidex Voices

The UN’s Office for the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which helps mobilise and coordinate effective international humanitarian action, is currently looking into the business case for the private sector’s engagement in emergencies. We spoke to Andrew Andrea from UN OCHA about the potential impact of the project. 

When thinking about the private sector’s involvement in humanitarian aid and development, your thoughts may turn quite naturally to corporate social responsibility (CSR): where companies strive to make a positive impact on the world around them, whether by donating cash, services, products, expertise or time to ‘give back’. Sometimes this is genuinely helpful and effective, other times it’s perceived as little more than a PR gimmick. 

But for many companies, getting involved in aid efforts goes beyond simply doing the right thing. It can be a smart business move too. After all, the private sector is a fundamental component of any society, with almost every individual running, working for, or benefiting from the companies operating in their community. When the private sector is mobilised to work with aid efforts into their business models, this can have a terrific impact. 

Andrew Andrea, from UN OCHA, makes the point concisely: “The private sector is already present in crisis-affected regions, before, during and after an emergency. But currently, their involvement tends to be ad-hoc. In a joined-up society, there is a reason and rationale for companies and the humanitarian sector collaborating in a principled way.”

UN OCHA is currently looking into ways of making this kind of integration more consistent and coordinated and, as such, is seeking to identify the business factors that lead to the private sector’s involvement. For instance, many companies find that supporting crisis preparedness provides stability to the local economy in which they operate. This allows businesses to recover faster following a crisis. Others report that it gives them access to new commercial opportunities, helps them build relationships or enhances their profile with important partners like governments, NGOs and other local businesses.

It’s not just big multinational businesses who can benefit. Such efforts are also valuable for companies who may not be based locally, but whose markets or supply chains are affected by disasters, as well as for any business providing services or products to the humanitarian sector. 

For example, an international supply chain company may deploy logistics experts to help distribute aid in remote areas, or a local tourism company may provide shelters and conduct needs assessments. The private sector’s expertise and capacity for innovation can be invaluable in helping to creatively tackle pressing humanitarian challenges. 

The challenge now is to gain a more concrete understanding of the impact of private sector engagement in such scenarios. Without the case studies, results and metrics to demonstrate how well (or not) this works, it’s difficult to showcase impact. That’s why UN OCHA encourages all businesses to take part in their survey, whatever your scale, capacity, or area of expertise. You’ll find more information here.