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Where aid work and the private sector meet

The IKEA shelter prototype has been designed to offer refugees in protracted situations greater comfort and durability than tents currently do UNHCR Innovation/R. Nuri

The private sector has long been a participant in global humanitarian work, providing cash and material donations. But private enterprises are increasingly becoming directly involved in relief work, partnering with governments, the UN and NGOs to improve aid delivery.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the guiding principles for public-private humanitarian collaboration include “do no harm”, coordination with humanitarian actors, conformity with humanitarian principles and standards, and respect for beneficiary communities.

IRIN has put together some examples of projects in which public-private collaborations have been used to improve aid work. (For more, see IRIN’s analysis on the role of the private sector in humanitarian work.)

IKEA and UNHCR: The IKEA Foundation, the charitable arm of Swedish furniture giant, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are partnering to pilot a new flat-packed refugee shelter that requires no tools to assemble, is better able to withstand harsh weather conditions and is more durable than the traditional canvas tents that have accommodated millions of refugees around the world. The new shelters are being tested in Ethiopia's Dollo Ado refugee camp and in Iraq’s Domiz camp for Syrian refugees.

Mastercard and WFP: As part of its efforts to feed the world's hungry, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) provides beneficiaries with food vouchers that are redeemable at local shops; these vouchers also help to boost the local economy. WFP has partnered with Mastercard on a "digital food" project" that will help improve the electronic food voucher system by, among other things, enabling voucher delivery through mobile phones or bank cards.

The Medicines Patent Pool: Formed in 2010 by health financing mechanism UNITAID, the Medicines Patent Pool describes itself as "a United Nations-backed organization that offers a public-health driven business model that aims to lower the prices of HIV medicines and facilitate the development of better-adapted HIV medicines in developing countries". The pool depends on private pharmaceutical companies willing to negotiate with generic drug manufacturers for voluntary licences on medicine patents, enabling generic competition and facilitating the development of new drug formulations. Since the organization’s formation, major pharmaceutical firms, including Gilead, Roche and ViiV, have collaborated with the pool to make their drug formulations available to people who would otherwise be unable to afford them.

Microsoft and OCHA: OCHA and IT giant Microsoft have been collaborating since 2006, with the latter developing and supporting an inter-agency website to boost humanitarian coordination through the cluster system, which since 2005 has brought UN and non-UN humanitarian organizations together to coordinate emergency response. The website, HumanitarianResponse.info, has since been used in responses to emergencies ranging from the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti to massive flooding in Pakistan.

Coca-Cola and the Global Fund: In 2012, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced it would expand an existing programme that uses Coca-Cola's global distribution channels and business expertise to support governments’ and NGOs’ delivery of medicines to remote parts of Africa. The expansion will build on the success of "Project Last Mile", a public-private partnership formed in 2010 to help Tanzania's government improve its drug supply chain. According to the Global Fund, by September 2012, the programme had improved close to 20 million people's access to drugs and significantly reduced delivery time for medicines.

Telenor and UNICEF in Serbia: In 2010, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and international telecom firm Telenor entered into a partnership with Serbia's health ministry to bring health services closer to the country's Roma community. Telenor provided laptops and mobile handsets to health "mediators" to enable them to reach and monitor the community without making expensive journeys to their homes. The system was also used to transmit important information, such about as vaccine days, through group SMS. The programme was able to train 60 mediators and register more than 100,000 Roma as part of the project.

The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap: The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW) was formed in 2001, part of an effort to prevent diarrheal diseases through a campaign for proper hand-washing. Member organizations include Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, UNICEF and the US Agency for International Development. Following the lead of the public sector in individual countries, the private sector provides technical assistance to raise awareness of the importance of proper hand-washing and promotes the building of water and sanitation infrastructure. A central pillar of the partnership is Global Handwashing Day, which has been celebrated on 15 October every year since 2008.

DHL and “Get Airports Ready for Disaster”: In 2012, international courier firm DHL partnered with the Lebanese government and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to launch a disaster preparedness programme for Beirut’s airport. The programme, called “Get Airports Ready for Disaster” (GARD), aims to help security, military and airport personnel improve their safety and security readiness for potential disasters. DHL has already implemented the GARD partnership - which was developed with UNDP in 2009 - in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal. GARD – is part of a larger global programme known as “GoHELP”, a broader partnership is with OCHA, through which it “leverages its core competence in logistics and global presence in a targeted and sustainable way to improve the living conditions of people in need”. In the past, the partnership has been used to provide emergency logistics support following Haiti’s earthquake, to provide logistics support following the 2007 earthquake in Peru and to speed up the distribution of aid in Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis in 2008.


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

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