The Business Humanitarian Forum (BHF), a Geneva-based international non-profit association, has developed a model for public-private cooperation on specific development projects that could make an important contribution to restarting the economies of post-conflict societies. In close collaboration with the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it is working to "jump-start the private sector" as a key element of reconstruction.
Projects developed on the BHF model identify urgent humanitarian needs in post-conflict situations, take advantage of corporate philanthropy and interest in corporate social responsibility, recruit local investors to establish local ownership, and make use of the credibility of UN agencies and the interest of local authorities to see early economic regeneration. The BHF model draws particularly on the technical expertise and specialized resources of the business sector, and brings them to bear where they are most needed. The BHF itself adds a lot of hard work: finding, selecting and recruiting private sector contributors; putting together project proposals; negotiating partnering agreements and other necessary documentation; finding necessary funding; stimulating interest and providing a continuing catalyst for success; and managing the overall development of the project.
The BHF/UNDP partners insist on responsible corporate practices, the results of which are local jobs and ownership, local economic regeneration, local models of corporate responsibility and perhaps, most importantly, hope that a better future is possible.
The BHF was established in 1999 at a round-table discussion in Geneva among senior business and humanitarian personalities. For several years, it has called attention to the need for greater business involvement in humanitarian work and the positive potential of partnerships between businesses and international organizations. The support of the private sector is important because humanitarian problems are growing while public resources for dealing with them are declining--a trend which is likely to continue.
At the same time, the private sector has vast resources, energy and creativity, and can make a significant difference in meeting these problems.
Business already plays an important role in humanitarian work through its corporate philanthropy donations, direct support for specific humanitarian programmes, and the funding of many business foundations. The challenge of attracting business support for humanitarian work is not so much a matter of convincing corporations to play a role, but rather of encouraging greater involvement with guidance in the most constructive directions, demonstrating alignment with business objectives and facilitating their support. The aim must be to make humanitarian support very simple for a company, so that it can do something clearly worthwhile, aligned with the company's business objectives, limited in scope, and easy.
Observing the situation in post-conflict Kosovo, the BHF concluded that a great deal of effort had to be put into attracting businesses to invest in specific commercial projects as early as possible after the end of a conflict. Such investment is the key to getting economic life stirring again, providing jobs and income, and some measure of hope that life will improve.
Early investment can reduce the overall expense of emergency assistance and help to ensure a sustainable peace. Indeed, allocating some funding for development of investment projects would very likely bring economies in overall spending for post-conflict recovery.
But businesses are hesitant to invest immediately because of the uncertainties inherent in post-conflict situations--general instability, a lack of security, absence of many normal services such as banking, communications and insurance, and the prospective difficulties in earning a fair profit. …