East Africa is undergoing a drastically changing humanitarian landscape, resulting in a complexity that cannot be addressed by traditional humanitarian actors alone. With the need for more, and more urgent, action, World Vision hosted a roundtable on 27th August 2015, bringing together UN agencies, NGOs, companies, WV staff and refugee community members. The event, the second in a series by WV’s Business for Disaster Management engagement initiative, aimed to increase awareness, facilitate information exchange and create opportunities for humanitarian actors and business to strengthen collaboration to address this unprecedented scale of humanitarian complexity. It was moderated by TPI Executive Director, Darian Stibbe.
As part of the opening remarks, Matthew Conway from UNOCHA emphasised that the humanitarian sector ‘needs new ways of thinking and doing business, because [the] current business model is not working, and we need to see and learn from the private sector how we can do things better and in partnership’.
The day was designed as a series of interactive events to share experiences and challenges. Among these, a panel session focused on market-based interventions in refugee camps and the challenges and opportunities of business engagement with refugee and host communities; a talk on the new complexity of urban disaster management; and a fishbowl session on the role of business in humanitarian response, and how the humanitarian and business sectors can move forward in their mutual engagement.
A number of ‘refugee entrepreneurs’ provided examples of interventions supporting refugees in building their own businesses, creating self-reliance and mutual benefits between host and refugee communities. These examples highlighted the need for greater corporate presence in remote camp areas, and entrepreneurial capacity building in order to meet the need for sharpened skills, entrepreneurial drive exposure of refugees to new opportunities, in addition to cash grants for refugee entrepreneurs to start small businesses. A crucial point taken away from these discussions was that refugee communities should not be seen as aid-dependent groups, but as an untapped workforce, endowed with under-utilised entrepreneurship potential both for self reliance and to drive the domestic economy.
Whether around preparedness, disaster response, or long term economic integration of refugees, the case for collaboration with the private sector was made clear. The challenge, that was subject of the final session, was how to make the necessary partnerships happen much more systematically and at scale. There was a strong consensus over the need to create a ‘systematic and ongoing platform to bring all the sectors together, to come up with creative partnership ideas, joint action, and monitoring to ensure that these are delivering impact’. The platform would aggregate information and facilitate networking between stakeholders to harness entrepreneurial innnovation, build collective action, support mutual accountability and share best practices.
A number of organisations agreed to collectively take forward the idea of this approach, with a meeting set for the first week of October to plan the establishment of the platform.