How businesses are stepping up to the challenge of responding to international disasters

July 8, 2015 Sue Adkins

International Disaster Relief Award, supported by DFID: 57.1 million contributed to international disaster relief in the last ten years

Sue Adkins, International Director, gives her views on the Shortlisted and Finalist entries to the International Disaster Relief Award, supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).


2014 saw over 330 international disasters, almost 200 of which were natural disasters. The international community, from government through to humanitarian agencies, civil society and business was both impacted and struggled to respond to this series of major disasters. Meanwhile, in the Philippines work continued to rebuild and recover from the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan at the end of 2013, and 2014 saw the Ebola crisis unfold in West Africa.  Most recently the devastating earthquakes in Nepal hit the country twice in a matter of weeks with tremors of a magnitude of 7.3 killing some 9000 and injuring more than 18,000.

The frequency and intensity of disasters is expected to increase over the coming decades with climate change, urban migration, population growth and diminishing natural resources and conflict being just some of the multiple contributing factors. The question today and in the future is not if a company will need to respond to an international disaster, but where and when?  And vitally important, is it prepared?    

The leading companies which have made the list of finalists for this year’s International Disaster Relief Award supported by DFID, demonstrate what can be achieved when business takes a strategic approach based on its core competencies, skills, expertise, products and services, and when it plans, prepares and has a system and process in place to mobilise in response to disasters and meet the needs of those affected.

From supporting on-the-ground delivery of aid in the first few days and weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, to the development of vaccines to help address the escalating Ebola crisis in West Africa, this year’s finalists show how companies have used their core competencies, in systematic ways, with sustainable programmes embedded in the organisational structure to respond more effectively. Mobilising over 44,000 volunteers, and delivering contributions of over £57.1 million over the last ten years, the finalists’ programmes also show companies working in close partnership with humanitarian agencies, governments and each other, complementing and supporting the overall humanitarian relief effort. 

International disaster relief management is about preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. Together, this year’s finalists illustrate not only examples of response and providing relief but also show the way companies are increasingly addressing disaster preparedness and resilience building. From developing clear protocols and systems to enable a rapid response, to pre-positioning supplies and training partners, to working with communities to identify and mitigate disaster risks, the entries show numerous ways that the private sector can contribute before disasters strike.

Business’ Unique Contribution: International Disaster Relief, research conducted by Business in the Community identified that over 90% of business and NGOs agreed that it is important for business to contribute to international disaster relief and 83% of businesses reported that international disaster relief contributed to more stable markets. 71% of business reported that they could be more for international disaster relief and 61% of business reported that their organisation could be better prepared and in their response to international disasters. This year’s award finalists demonstrate how this can be done, and illustrate practical approaches that we hope will inspire others to action across the disaster management cycle.

The overall Winner of the International Disaster Relief Award 2015, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), showcases what can be achieved when a company mobilises different aspects of the business in a holistic disaster response. GSK has a well-rehearsed system and protocol in place for international disaster relief. As the extent of the Ebola crisis in West Africa became clear, GSK reacted rapidly to provide urgently needed medicines and personal protective equipment.

At the same time, having a candidate vaccine in the process, as did other pharmaceutical companies, GSK put in more resource to accelerate the development of the vaccine and worked with the industry to reduce a R&D process that averages ten years down to ten months, with the first batch of the Ebola candidate vaccine shipped to Liberia in January 2015. GSK’s work on Ebola saw them working with direct competitors in combined clinical trials to fast track the vaccine development, as well as coordinating with other pharmaceutical companies through industry platforms to ensure the donation of urgently needed medicines and supplies. GSK also scaled up its investment in frontline health workers capacity, and advocated for a strategic and scaled up response across the global health community for an effective international response to the crisis.

British Airways (BA), which was Highly Commended in this category, provides an impressive example of a well-developed international disaster relief strategy that is clearly linked to the company’s core business and expertise. BA works in partnership with humanitarian agencies to transport relief supplies and aid workers to disaster zones. The airline has demonstrated flexibility and a willingness to take risks to get aid where it is needed, including flying to airports outside of the airline’s existing route network and overcoming significant logistical challenges at airports struggling to cope with the influx of aid.

With over 1,000 employees involved in disaster relief since 2005, this entry also shows the employee engagement that has been developed through BA’s work in international disaster relief. BA has also engaged its customers in the effort through on board announcements and collection programmes. Based on its core competencies, BA has leveraged its capabilities, built a network of skilled personnel across the business to deliver an efficient and effective rapid response disaster relief system to help those impacted by international disasters.

See the list of all International Disaster Relief Award entries.

International Disaster Relief Award, supported by DFID: 57.1 million contributed to international disaster relief in the last ten years.

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