MB: What has been the impact of the pandemic on humanitarian organisations, and how have companies adapted to the changing environment?
LF: The pandemic has created added stress for charitable and humanitarian organisations already struggling to fulfil the many needs of those they serve. Some corporate partners have been acutely tuned in to the stresses of charitable and humanitarian organisations and have taken actions to help them. Corporations have activated their employees and organised a variety of fundraising activities. For example, employees of the Spanish energy company, Iberdrola, virtually composed and performed a song about volunteering to celebrate their virtual global volunteering day and the company donated funds to UNICEF with each click on the song.
State Street Corporation, at the outset of the pandemic, advanced grants to their nonprofit partners to help them get through the crisis. Company executives coached the nonprofit leaders in business continuity and financial management to help them weather the changing environment.
Once the initial shock of the pandemic passed, we saw corporate volunteers eager to “do something” to help others even if they couldn’t leave their homes. Many signed on through their companies’ programmes to volunteer platforms such as Translators without Borders, Career Village or Missing Maps.
MB: HOW HAS PRIVATE SECTOR ENGAGEMENT IN HUMANITARIAN ISSUES EVOLVED OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS?
LF: Increasingly private sector leaders are realising that open and honest conversations with humanitarian partners lead to more fruitful programmes and solutions. Aside from those responding to medical emergencies, it feels as if the pandemic put a lot of frenetic activity on “pause” and led in many cases to an atmosphere of more thoughtful programme planning and cross-sector conversations.
More companies are working on co-creating programmes to meet the actual, rather than perceived needs of humanitarian organisations. Additionally, the United Nations Global Goals (SDGs) have brought the world’s needs to the forefront with the 17 tangible problems to solve. Many corporate social responsibility leaders, such as those in the IAVE Global Corporate Volunteer Council, are seeking to focus on a specific SDG or set of SDGs with targeted, measurable programmes involving volunteering, grants, and new business practices.
MB: WHERE ARE THE BIGGEST OPPORTUNITIES FOR BUSINESSES TO SUPPORT HUMANITARIAN ORGANIsATIONS?
LF: In my view, the greatest potential impact comes from sustained skills-based volunteering that addresses a challenge that the humanitarian organisation doesn’t have the capacity or knowledge to address on its own. For example, the Google.org Fellowship programmes embeds teams of Google employees in non-profits for up to six months during which they work full time on technical projects that help accelerate the impact of the charitable organisation. In one instance they assisted an organisation working to spot and stop human trafficking with the use of AI.
In another example, lawyers of the global law firm Linklaters provide over 30,000 hours a year of pro-bono advice with a focus on providing access to justice and equal opportunities. Volunteer lawyers represent individual refugees but also recently worked with the United Nations to have climate change recognised as a justifiable reason for claiming asylum.
MB: WHAT EXAMPLES HAVE YOU SEEN OF SUCCESSFUL PRIVATE SECTOR PARTNERSHIPS, AND WHAT MADE THEM SO EFFECTIVE?
LF: The logistics company, UPS works closely with other companies, humanitarian organisations and global and national nonprofits with very comprehensive disaster preparedness and response programmes. A particularly impressive partnership is with GAVI (the vaccine alliance) and Zipline (a leader in drone delivery). In Rwanda, 23% of maternal deaths occur from postpartum haemorrhage and due to the geography of the country, a blood delivery by car could take 4-6 hours in the rainy season. With the support of the Rwandan government, UPS, GAVI, and Zipline have developed a medical drone partnership to accelerate Rwanda’s access to lifesaving medical supplies, including blood deliveries for new mothers.
The Airbus Foundation presents an excellent example of how a programme can evolve over time through co-creation and regular dialogue. Initially, the company felt it could help the humanitarian community by providing space for staff and goods on both commercial and cargo planes for the IFRC and the World Food Programme. Next, Airbus trained humanitarian community members to utilise their satellites to collect images so they could access the technology themselves to survey disaster scenes.
As they began working together on more and more projects, Airbus offered slots for 20 IFRC employees in the company’s internal leadership programme. Airbus and IFRC leaders spent more time together and learned about each other’s work. This prompted many Airbus employees to train as emergency responders and to volunteer in disasters. This caused Airbus employees to become more acutely aware of the needs in the field. Finally, the Airbus employee volunteer led Humanity Labs started to prototype a number of inventions to solve practical problems – such as portable, durable hand washing stations. And today volunteers in Humanity Labs are continuing to invent solutions to humanitarians’ challenges.
MB: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SMALL BUSINESSES, LOOKING TO WORK WITH A CHARITY, OR NGO, BUT HAVING LIMITED RESOURCES?
lF: My advice would be to consider developing a collaboration with other businesses to meet the specific needs of local NGOs or charities. A favourite example of mine is the Berlin Social Academy (BSA), a collaboration of 15+ companies of all sizes in Berlin, Germany. Each year for the past nine years, the BSA members devote several days within a designated week to providing pro bono workshops, webinars, and one-on-one coaching for nonprofit organisations in Berlin. Topics range from communications, PR, organisational development, accounting, law, and human resources. In 2021 they executed a virtual programme with 1,500 participants, 53 speakers and 42 workshops and coaching sessions.