From pharmaceuticals and insecticides to innovative waterproofing, security and insurance, for-profit businesses hawked their wares to non-profit organizations at Aid+Trade, one of the largest events of its kind.
Wallace, vice-president of membership for InterAction, the largest coalition of US-based international NGOs with 183 members, told IRIN: “Non-profits have to buy services just like everybody else… I mean it's not like everything is donated, because it simply isn't, and an opportunity for procurement people from non-profits, CEOs from non-profits to visit a place where they can meet competitors for what they're going to buy, and negotiate deals that might reduce the price, I see as an advantage.”
Director Sula Bruce of International Aid & Trade, a London-based body that staged a separate event with 800 participants, 100 speakers and 40 sessions, was enthusiastic: “What it does is provide an opportunity for companies to really communicate on an open, visible platform with the aid agencies they are serving - UN, governmental or NGO. International Aid & Trade enables humanitarian agencies to meet a cross-section of companies, which assists them in securing the best prices for the goods and services they use.”
For the UN such events are part of an essential partnership with the business world. “It serves an important and legitimate function. The UN and wider UN humanitarian community must procure capital equipment, goods and services to effectively fulfil their missions,” Will Kennedy, senior programme officer at the UN Fund for International Partnerships, told IRIN.
“I personally don't see a conflict of interest here. All goods and services procured by UN humanitarian agencies go through well established and fairly rigorous competitive bidding processes.”
Photo: Titan Energy
|The Sentry 5000 Mobile Utility System, a multifunctional enclosed trailer unit capable of providing quickly deployable electrical power, heating and cooling, purified water, communication and lighting as a single, self-contained towable unit
The wares on show include the familiar, such as water-purifying equipment; the novel, like an all-in-one raincoat and tent; as well as services, including satellite communications and insurance. Bruce highlighted Active Engineering's JakPak, an all-in-one waterproof jacket with “the built-in versatility of a personal sleeping environment” billed as “a critical new resource for first responders and disaster victims”.
Sentry Group, a Michigan-based company, introduced a multifunctional enclosed trailer unit – the Sentry 5000 - capable of providing quickly deployable electrical power, heating and cooling, communication and lighting as a single, towable unit. It claims to be able to purify about 13,000 litres of water a day.
Flood Inhibiting and Defense Organization (FIDO) displayed lightweight, portable sandless sandbags that can stop intrusive water, activating instantly on contact, billed as non-toxic and 100 percent biodegradable.
Security is never far from the minds of NGOs and several exhibitors dealt with issues ranging from mine clearance to protection from hostile elements, such as L-3 CyTerra mine-detectors or and Clements International insurance services, including for political risk and kidnap for ransom.
At the 2007 fair in Geneva, the London-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and UNOSAT, the UN's Operational Satellite Applications Programme, realised that their respective maps - MAG’s showing unexploded ordnance and UNOSAT's showing the location of water - could be used to establish settlements for displaced people with sufficient water but away from dangerous areas.
For Africare, an American-led NGO: “We actually have an opportunity to see what new products are out there,” said J. Margaret Burke, director of management services, “[and] it gives an opportunity for NGOs to see each other as well as the vendors.”
Summing up the position of many in the NGO world to possible ethical wariness over the linkage between businesses and NGOs, Catholic Relief Services said its presence did not represent an endorsement of the event, other presenters, the exhibitors, or any of the suppliers.
“That having been said, humanitarian organizations need supplies,” spokesman John Rivera told IRIN. “We buy lots of supplies locally, i.e. in the countries where we operate, but we need other materials and seek the most efficient and cost-effective way of getting what we need to where we need it. We are thankful to have a vibrant market in the sort of basic materials we need.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions