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Combining Capabilities: How Public Private Partnerships are Making a Difference in Humanitarian Action




Humankind faces daunting challenges. Conflicts, natural disasters, displacement, epidemics and other crises are changing the dynamic of the world we live in, and the impact of such disruptive forces is likely to increase in the 21st century. Often, individual actors lack the power, resources or skills to ‘go it alone’ and solve these challenges on their own. Communities must increasingly work together to address societal and humanitarian needs. The public and private sectors possess vast experience and know-how that, when properly combined, harbor significant potential to make a difference. This is beginning to happen on a larger scale. Recent years have witnessed an encouraging trend as businesses increasingly tap into their own core capabilities and join forces with organizations whose skills complement their own.

This publication is intended to uncover the potential of public private partnerships. It was jointly developed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Deutsche Post DHL Group, two organizations that look back on 10 years of successful collaboration. Our report illustrates a variety of innovative and effective partnerships in the field of humanitarian action and makes the case that public private partnerships are essential for global problem-solving in today’s world. Our publication also sheds light on how such partnerships work in practice, what challenges exist, and what makes them successful in the long run.

The case for public private partnerships To set the scene, Deutsche Post DHL Group CEO Frank Appel explains why he firmly believes a multi-stakeholder approach is the best way to tackle many of today’s challenges. This means bringing together everyone who has an interest in a particular issue and the ability to make a difference – to bundle a diverse yet complementary set of skills and expertise in order to maximize effectiveness and achieve greater impact. In Appel’s view, public private partnerships represent an important, forward-looking approach to face today’s challenging times. He shows how his company teams up with strong partners and participates actively in international groups and alliances to address problems and make a difference in society.

Such private sector support is to be encouraged, because the rising costs of disasters worldwide are increasingly outstripping the resources of our traditional public, multilateral and nonprofit responders, especially in the field of humanitarian aid, writes Professor Michael Useem and Luis Ballesteros. They point to a clear trend within the business community to help fill this gap, citing that while 15 years ago less than a third of the world’s 2,000 largest multinational corporations donated to disaster recovery, today more than nine in 10 provide some form of disaster support, including direct relief and logistics.
Public private partnerships can help ensure that business assistance is directed where it is most needed, they explain. They add that partnerships should be encouraged – whether de facto, with each informally complementing the other, or more formally, with each explicitly coordinating with the other.

The shape and purpose of public private partnerships

Public private partnerships for humanitarian relief can take on many different forms. Businesses looking to engage in humanitarian action and team up with other, like-minded actors can take inspiration from a broad range of models. This publication showcases a number of examples:

• Dedicated private sector networks that operate mainly at the national or regional level such as the one established by the Telma Foundation in Madagascar, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation or the Ebola Private Sector Mobilization Group, which has played an important role in helping West Africa tackle the Ebola outbreak.

• Industry networks and initiatives, such as the Disaster Resource Partnership, a new model for disaster response from the engineering & construction industry, or the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, an initiative by mobile network operators, launched by the GSMA.

• Partnerships with large, multinational companies, such as MasterCard, Ericsson or Deutsche Post DHL Group. These public private partnerships reveal the potential of entering into dedicated collaboration with NGOs or the United Nations.
No matter what the form, partnerships between humanitarian actors and private sector companies should be developed with the shared goal of alleviating human suffering and providing quality assistance to those most in need. The partners will work best together if they follow certain guiding principles, including leveraging core competencies, meeting identified needs, building local capacity, establishing a clear separation between humanitarian and commercial activities, and developing predictable, long-term partnerships.

The role of public private partnerships in the international humanitarian system

The international humanitarian system is well established and made up of a wide range of organizations, agencies and inter-agency networks working together to channel international humanitarian assistance to the places and people in need. All humanitarian activities are guided by the four humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, and any form of public private partnership must tie into this system and adhere to its principles.
At the core of the international humanitarian system is the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which is mandated to support the coordination of humanitarian agencies. OCHA brings together and acts as a central point of contact for the humanitarian agencies and other humanitarian actors, ensuring that there is a framework for the overall response effort.
The UN regards the private sector as a major contributor to humanitarian action, recognizing that local businesses as well as national and multinational companies possess critical skills and resources that can be leveraged to facilitate a more effective humanitarian response. The UN has learned from experience that it is in the interest of both the humanitarian and business communities to establish close links through networks and partnerships. After all, when a disaster strikes, everyone is affected, including private sector employees, customers, markets and supply chains. The UN Secretary-General encourages companies to coordinate their response efforts with the UN in order to ensure coherence with priorities and to minimize gaps and duplication.
The private sector also has a key role to play beyond humanitarian relief and disaster response, namely in disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction. The combined impact of a changing climate, urbanization and rapidly growing exposure to disaster risk presents the world with an unprecedented challenge. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is one of the largest global public-sector actors in these areas. In the past decade, the organization has invested more than US$ 1 billion in building resilience and providing support to countries in disaster risk reduction and recovery.
UNDP supports national governments in collaborating with private sector and civil society partners on capacity development for disaster preparedness and emergency response. UNDP is exploring global, regional and national opportunities to institutionalize the role of the private sector in disaster risk reduction.

The partnership between the United Nations and Deutsche Post DHL Group

In addition to profiling a wide variety of public private partnerships and networks, this publication focuses particularly on the two partnerships Deutsche Post DHL Group maintains with OCHA and UNDP. Over 10 years ago, the company joined forces with the UN to help improve disaster management. In collaboration with OCHA,
Deutsche Post DHL Group deploys Disaster Response Teams (DRTs) to provide on-site logistics support at affected airports in the wake of a natural disaster. Together with UNDP, the company also runs the Get Airports Ready for Disaster (GARD) program, which helps to prepare airports in areas at risk of natural catastrophes. Known collectively as the GoHelp program, both initiatives demonstrate the power of public private partnerships with a clear focus, long-term approach and successful track record. They showcase how the combination of very different capabilities and strengths can be an essential asset for emergency preparedness and response. The DRT’s 2015 deployment in the immediate aftermath of the Nepal earthquake provides a particularly vivid example of this.
Beyond the direct benefit on the ground, both partnerships have also become a strong source of pride among the volunteers and Deutsche Post DHL Group’s global workforce. The DRT and GARD volunteers are employees whose individual skills are put to use effectively for people in need. This fits perfectly with the company’s stated purpose – connecting people and improving their lives – and is widely acknowledged and valued by its employees worldwide. Ultimately the work and volunteer spirit of a few becomes a source of inspiration to many.

A look beyond: Why public private partnerships are here to stay

The international humanitarian system has seen many changes in recent years and the private sector is making an impact, writes Barnaby Willitts-King. Though not necessarily new actors, businesses today are often at the forefront of humanitarian efforts, and their contribution is increasing. Innovations in technology are transforming entire aspects of humanitarian action, and businesses themselves are evolving, as seen in the rise of social enterprises. For Willitts-King, the growing role of business in humanitarian action has great potential and wide-ranging benefits, but also poses significant challenges to the humanitarian sector. In his view, a more effective engagement between the private sector and aid agencies is on the horizon, especially if both communities continue to work more closely together.
The need to effectively and jointly address humanitarian challenges will further grow in the 21st century. In order to harness the full power of business, the private sector must be an equal partner at all stages of humanitarian action. Effective collaboration must be founded upon common interests and the co-creation of projects and outcomes. To build on the growing momentum, businesses, governments and international organizations are joining forces to launch the Connecting Business initiative, which aims to transform public private partnerships and business engagement in a holistic approach. Led by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), OCHA and the UNDP, the initiative will support businesses, provide access to leading practices, encourage partnerships and strengthen collaboration. It will also create a global portal to connect business networks at the local, national and international levels – a clear entry point or “one-stop-shop” for businesses to effectively mobilize and coordinate their engagement.
As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said: “The United Nations and business need each other. We need their innovation, their initiative, their technological prowess. But business also needs the United Nations. In a very real sense, the work of the United Nations can be viewed as seeking to create the ideal enabling environment within which business can thrive.” As the United Nations seeks to be a catalyst, the private sector is working to become an indispensable partner in disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness, response and recovery. Though the public private partnership approach is not yet systematic, the trend indicates that more and more businesses will engage on this basis, combining capabilities to make a difference.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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