Looking to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul: Building on the Lessons Learned from CEHR

By Chip Cottrell 

As we head to Istanbul on May 23-24 for the first World Humanitarian Summit, we have the opportunity to build on the experience of the Community for Effective Humanitarian Response (CEHR) to enhance the role of the private sector to address the worst human suffering since the second world war.

On December 1, 2015, CEHR held its inaugural meeting in the offices of the World Economic Forum in New York. More than 40 attendees from humanitarian organizations, group industry leaders, and CEHR member companies focused on one basic question: “How can we make the humanitarian response system work more effectively and efficiently?” The meeting was co-hosted by the Forum and Deloitte, and Deloitte served as facilitator.

We all felt the urgency in the room. The flood of over 120 million refugees from Syria, Eritrea, and other hot zones has overwhelmed the ability of governments to provide their most basic needs, let alone their long-term recovery. UN relief agencies are struggling to avoid bankruptcy. We face the unusual irony that more private-sector companies want to get involved than ever before, but a host of challenges stand in the way of effective collaboration.

The meeting generated a number of key questions. For example, what can we do before the crisis hits to reduce the inevitable confusion, inefficiency, and duplication of efforts? What can we do now to set the protocols, establish how we can work together with others, and coordinate our efforts? How can we improve our organizational readiness to come together as a team? And how can we use technological advances to improve the humanitarian response to crises?

After a day of discussions, focused break-out sessions, and sharing lessons learned, the participants identified three key solutions:

  • Form cross-industry alliances between the private sector and international organizations before crises occur. The participants envisioned a three-step process: (1) assess and map the forums and groups that currently enable cooperation, (2) develop a strategy and plans to fill the gaps and standardize coalitions, and (3) create a technology platform to collaborate and identify teaming opportunities.
  • Improve the principles and accountability for engagement in complex emergencies. This would include assessing the risk as well as reviewing and revising the Forum and OCHA guidelines.
  • Provide a secure, agreed-upon method to share sensitive data among humanitarian actors. Participants suggested mapping existing data and country standards, using a case-based approach to sharing humanitarian data, and creating best practices for sharing information and data.

To facilitate these and other solutions, participants recommended that we consider five strategies:

  1. Encourage innovation. Co-develop and share solutions across sectors, and adapt innovations to meet the unique aspects of the challenge.
  2. Improve use of technology. Use technological solutions to accelerate the provision of key staples. Improve real-time awareness of crisis conditions through data visualizations that can inform decision-making.
  3. Provide intelligence. Integrate data sources for a more complete view of conditions, risks, and threats.
  4. Leverage networks. Connect companies’ emergency response networks for more coordinated responses, and strengthen cross-sector relationships.
  5. Engage local communities. Engage local expertise, services, and assets and enable more CEHR members to do the same.

And what are the next steps for CEHR? Our challenge is to carry the messages forward, further refine our ideas, and continue the process of brainstorming in Istanbul to improve the effectiveness of the humanitarian relief system worldwide.

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