Relief, Resilience and Redesign – how business is changing disaster response

January 27, 2016 Rosie Oglesby

A DFID staff member supervises the unloading of UK aid from an RAF C-17 aircraft in Kathmundu, Nepal on the 29 April 2015

Rosie Oglesby, International Disaster Relief Programme Manager at Business in the Community (BITC), discusses the increasingly important role of business in addressing the challenges to humanitarian response.

The start of 2016 marks the fifth year of the Syrian Conflict and the largest refugee movement globally since World War II. This ongoing humanitarian emergency provides a sobering backdrop to this year’s World Humanitarian Summit, an initiative led by the UN Secretary-General, which will challenge global leaders to rethink the future of humanitarian assistance.

Rather than remaining on the side-lines of global humanitarian discussions, businesses are challenging global leaders to do more and to help them be part of the solution.  This assistance is very timely, as the global community must transform the way it prepares for and responds to ever more challenging and complex crises, requiring more innovative and collaborative partnerships.

When DFID began supporting Business in the Community’s International Disaster Relief work in 2013, the involvement of the private sector in humanitarian preparedness and response was in itself seen as ground-breaking. Three years on, it is no longer a question of whether the private sector should be involved but how to push the boundaries of their engagement.

Business and humanitarian partners have begun to think critically about the full range of the capabilities and resources that businesses can deploy in humanitarian operations, which is crucial in addressing the scale of the challenges facing us.

Companies are innovating to bring real benefits to communities affected by disaster. GSK’s response to the Ebola crisis involved not only immediate relief support but also deployment of their research capability to accelerate the development of a vaccine candidate. Furthermore, GSK continued support to frontline health workers in West Africa as the long term legacy of their Ebola response programme.

Another example is Ikea, which is working in partnership with UNHCR using its technical know-how in flat pack furnishing to transform the design of refugee shelters.  This work means refugees gain more permanent, safer and larger accommodation.

Businesses can also contribute to disaster resilience and preparedness, supporting communities before disasters hit the headlines. For example, Zurich has developed an impressive programme to address flood resilience working in partnership with NGOs and academia to mitigate flood risks faced by communities in Nepal, Peru, Mexico and Indonesia.

We need to be more ambitious still. With the average refugee living in displacement for 17 years, the humanitarian sector is waking up to a need for different approaches which must involve the private sector. Companies need to ask themselves how they can have long term impact for communities, who are not only refugees but are potential customers, employees and suppliers.

Recognising these business benefits is key to the private sector engaging sustainably and achieving the scale we need. 

This is why we are proud to be running the 2016 UPS International Disaster Relief Award, supported by the Department for International Development which celebrates businesses helping communities prepare for, respond to and recover from international disasters. This award is open to businesses globally, of any size, any scale and in any sector, and we encourage you to enter this year.

The Awards are now closed, but you can view the companies shortlisted for the 2016 UPS International Disaster Relief Award and read the stories behind the entries now.


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