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Do business with refugees, they benefit too - new report

Firms that approach disasters and humanitarian crises as commercial opportunities are doing more to help than companies who try to be charitable by giving money, according to new research out today.

A report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) – Britain’s top international development think tank – says humanitarian responses like Syria’s refugee crisis can be eased if bosses think of them as business opportunities.

“Most people think philanthropy or forms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are the best ways to help, but our research has shown that this is not the case,” said Steven Zyck, ODI researcher in the Humanitarian Policy Group and lead author of ‘Humanitarian crises, emergency preparedness and response: the role of business and the private sector.

The report, which includes research from Jordan, Kenya, Indonesia, and Haiti, shows that where private sector companies are making money it’s because they are increasingly offering quality, in-demand services.

“The private sector has transformed cash transfers, telecommunications and logistics in humanitarian crises,” said Mr Zyck. “Insurance companies in Asia and Africa are blunting the humanitarian consequences of droughts and cyclones, and banks are helping to rapidly transfer money to those affected by disasters. Businesses are also tackling sanitation and disaster preparedness says the ODI report.”

“For donor agencies, working with the private sector – especially local businesses - makes perfect sense as they can also benefit rather than suffer from increased refugee numbers and humanitarian efforts operating in their region,” added Mr Zyck.

In Indonesia, insurance companies have provided insurance against dengue fever for little more than the cost of cigarettes, giving the insurer a financial stake in the health and wellbeing of communities. In 2013, the private sector provided emergency relief – the transport of people and goods – following floods in the capital city Jakarta. Over 20,000 people were evacuated.        
In Kenya in 2011, banks and telecom companies were contracted to deliver cash transfers to people suffering through the drought and regional insurance companies have helped to insure households against droughts, helping reduce the need for humanitarian assistance.

Regional banks in Jordan have established successful cash transfer programmes that allow Syrian refugees to access aid from biometric ATMs. The World Food Programme is giving e-vouchers to Syrian refugees to allow them to purchase food and toiletries in grocery stores rather than relying on aid packages.        

“It is not that the private sector will replace the traditional humanitarian community, it is about the two sectors complementing each other. The private sector’s technical expertise and resources offer great opportunities to innovate and improve services, while humanitarian agencies continue to have leading insight into what types of aid are needed and how to reach people in remote communities,” said Mr Zyck.

Some multinational companies already see the potential of operating in war-torn and disaster-prone areas, such as Unilever, who provide low cost home-based sanitation, and Orange, who provide mobile money services.

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To arrange interviews with Steven Zyck, the researcher behind the report please, contact Clare Price on [email protected] / +44 (0)7808 791 265

The full research report

Video of researcher Steven Zyck