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Engaging the Private Sector in Humanitarian Action - Regional Dialogue, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, 4 June 2015

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A one-day regional business dialogue for West Africa was held on 4 June 2015 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire attracting some 75 representatives from the private sector (including multi-national and national enterprises), Non-Governmental Organizations, the United Nations and the Government of Cote d’Ivoire. The event was organized by the Ministry of Solidarity, Family Women and Children, OCHA Private Sector Section in Geneva, OCHA ROWCA and OCHA Cote d’Ivoire, in partnership with the General Confederation of Enterprises of Cote d’Ivoire (GCECI) who hosted the event on their premises.

At the opening session, keynote speakers called for innovative approach to humanitarian action in the region, noting that the unprecedented number of disasters(in particular the Ebola outbreak) as well as ongoing crises such as conflicts, drought and annual floods meant that the private sector engagement was no longer an option but a requirement.

An interactive panel of discussion on “The Ebola Response - Experiences and Lessons Learned” included representatives from the Ebola Private Sector Mobilization Group (EPSMG), NGO, the Ministry of Health and GCECI. At the end of the session, it was established that the private sector in Ebola affected countries had acted with speed and efficiency in their response; success was noted in collecting and disseminating information quickly to employees and the public at large; the important role played by the informal private sector in addressing the Ebola response was recognized; and the value realized from the creation of a centralized private sector platform for coordinating and sharing information on the Ebola response in Cote d’Ivoire was acknowledged as effective. Participants further emphasized the need to involve private sector in preparedness discussion well in advance of an emergency as well as to view them as an equal partner and not solely as a financial provider.

The consultation focused on three thematic areas: (1) Partnering on risk analysis and preparedness planning; (2) Partnering on crisis response and recovery; and (3) Creating an enabling environment for private sector engagement. Main issues that emerged from this session included: sustainable business partnerships should be based on shared values and common interests; the challenges faced by small and medium sized enterprises in engaging with the UN and the humanitarian community; the importance of addressing mistrust between the private sector and humanitarian actors; the need for a central platform to help systemize dialogue between the humanitarian community and the private sector, the need for the UN to streamline its bureaucracy including its due diligence processes; the value of providing visibility to the private sector in its engagement in humanitarian action , as well as communicating the contributions of the private sector effectively to the public; and lastly, the importance in viewing the private sector as a unique set of entities to be addressed in tailored ways rather than as ‘one” private sector.