How can private philanthropists maximize their positive impact and added value in humanitarian emergency responses?
The year 2014 marked a record level of private contributions to humanitarian aid (1.5% of total humanitarian aid managed by the UN, according to Financial Tracking Service) . More recently, the quick response of private donors to the earthquakes that struck Nepal on April 25th and May 12th, causing more than 8,600 deaths and affecting up to 8 million people, showed how private funds can be quickly mobilized and channeled to support humanitarian organizations and the beneficiaries they deliver for.
This increased involvement of the private sector is probably best explained by the realization that philanthropy – traditionally synonymous of charity – can instead be a win-win transaction between the private donor and the humanitarian recipient. Nowadays, corporations are well aware of the benefits they can derive from corporate philanthropy and CSR: from an enhanced public image to a more loyal and mobilized workforce. At the same time, the private sector can positively add value to humanitarian aid mechanisms, not just in terms of funding but also by providing specialized services, mobilizing resources, speeding up the emergency response, and transferring knowledge and skills. The involvement of the private sector, when it reinforces rather than undermines the work of implementing partners, is thus not only welcomed but also encouraged.
This growing but limited funding needs however to be better leveraged and coordinated in order to maximize its impact. The disorganized response to the crisis provoked by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti taught us that private sector involvement could be detrimental and cause inefficiencies if there is no adequate understanding, communication, coordination, and cooperation with the other actors involved. Local authorities, nonprofit organizations, the international aid system and the private sector need to learn from past mistakes to better operate and co-operate.
To achieve successful private-humanitarian cooperation, private donors should focus on four main activities:
1. Identifying and addressing funding gaps and avoiding overlapping (for example by creating consortia or alliances and through crises preparedness plans);
2. Enhancing evidence-based response and capitalization, by leveraging the implementing partners’ strong socio-economic and contextual analysis, supporting external monitoring and evaluation of programs, and funding of research and development;
3. Aiming at long-term and sustainable solutions, by requiring long-term objectives to be included in rapid response planning;
4. Involving local communities/authorities in the co-design of strategic plans.
Underpinning these actions is the need for better mutual understanding between NGOs, which are increasingly professionalized and experienced in addressing humanitarian crises, and the private sector, which is much more than just a “cash cow.”
Given the complexities of the humanitarian field, the private sector should not be afraid to seek external advice of experts when needed. Indeed, donors need to ensure through due diligence, project quality assessment, and context understanding, that they are more than proactive actors: they are responsible actors.
Alessandra Gargiulo is a Consultant at Philanthropy Advisors, a philanthropic advisory firm for HNWIs based in Paris and Geneva. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org