Simon Maxwell

A New Business Model for Humanitarian Assistance?

A New Business Model for Humanitarian Assistance? A challenge paper by the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Assistance

Preface: The Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Assistance was established in 2008 under the aegis of the World Economic Forum. It is one of about seventy Councils which together have been charged with developing proposals to address global problems. Participants come from academic, business, non-governmental and inter-governmental backgrounds, but sit in their personal capacities. In the words of WEF Chairman, Klaus Schwab, ‘The challenges faced by the world today are more complex, more interrelated, more intractable than ever before. Confronting these global challenges requires collaborative thinking, creative solutions and, most importantly, a systematic approach to implementation. These Global Agenda Councils and their deliberations will provide a 21st century approach to dealing with the issues that face us all, from systemic financial risk to climate change. What we need now is an entirely new global cooperation system.’...........

Those of us who were privileged to sit on the Humanitarian Assistance GAC shared Klaus Schwab’s sense of urgency. We began our work with a strong commitment to the moral imperative of protecting the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable in our global society. We were conscious that humanitarian needs had grown and were likely to grow further, not least under the pressure of climate change. We acknowledged the energy and professionalism of humanitarian organisations. And we recognised many new initiatives, including by the private sector and other ‘new actors’ in the humanitarian field. At the same time, standing back from the immediate needs, and working with other Agenda Councils on a wide range of economic and technical topics, we identified the need for further innovation.

The main focus of our discussion was on the factors that produce humanitarian crises, and on how to manage response so that further crises become less likely. We were led to examine risk analysis and mapping, disaster prevention and preparedness, and rehabilitation and recovery. We found ourselves emphasising national capacity-building as the key scaffolding of risk management and disaster response, implying new roles for aid donors and private sector partners. We called this a new ‘business model’ for humanitarian action.

In the time available to us, we were able to sketch our ideas and provide a platform for further work. We developed our thinking through a series of extended ‘virtual meetings’ and at the first annual meeting of the Global Agenda Councils, convened in Dubai in November 2009. Formally, our work ended in June 2009. Some members of the Council stood down at that time, and new members joined. However, we have decided to publish this summary of our initial thinking in the name of the 2008-9 Council, not as the last word on the topic, far from it, but as a contribution to the 2009-10 Council, and also as a report to our fellow Councils and to the wider community.

We offer the analysis in our personal capacities, but also on the clear understanding that this is work in progress. The report has been a collaborative project, but none of us wishes to be bound by every word or every position. We ask readers to accept the report in the spirit in which it was written: as an account of an evolving conversation.

We would not have made the progress we have without the support of our coordinators at the World Economic Forum, first Shruti Mehrotra and then Olivia Bessat. Our thanks to them. Shruti Mehortra provided leadership and energy to the World Economic Forum’s initiatives on business contributions to disaster relief, which have provided many useful insights and links. I would also like to thank Dan Smith and his colleagues at International Alert, especially Ilaria Bianchi, for taking on editing and publication. Dan Smith has been an invaluable member of the Council on his own account, and we are grateful for this additional contribution. I would like to thank all the members of the 2008-9 Council for their collaboration.

As our report goes to press, the world is again shocked by the human impact of natural disasters, in Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and the island countries of the South Pacific. Conflict continues to impose unbearable burdens on innocent women, men, and children. The financial crisis has driven 100 million people below the poverty line, and made them more vulnerable. There can be no doubt that Klaus Schwab is right about the scale of the challenge we face. The Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Assistance will continue to play its part in the search for solutions.

Simon Maxwell
Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Assistance

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