UNHCR and INSEAD address the role of the private sector in humanitarian response

Middle East
03 October 2016

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and INSEAD, The Center for Economic Growth (CEG) and Young Arab Leaders (YAL) held a joint event on private sector engagement in response to humanitarian crises in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in Dubai.

The event, the second of its kind, aimed at highlighting the importance of engaging the private sector to work with the UNHCR and other organisations in addressing the humanitarian and refugee crises.  Another key area discussed was the importance of focusing on refugees as potential economic agents able to contribute to the economy. This shift in perspective would ensure refugees’ talents and skills are maximised while in host countries.

“There is no doubt that the private sector is an important partner in humanitarian response” said Khaled Khalifa, UNHCR Regional Representative to the GCC Countries.  “Events that bring together business leaders from the private sector, the UN and NGOS, play a critical role in building bridges towards a more effective humanitarian response.”

Attended by key business leaders from the region, the event coincided with a series of private sector meetings held in New York, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, which strategized on how to increase private sector engagement in the current refugee emergency, not just through fundraising but by making use of business expertise, particularly in the area of innovative and technology-driven approaches.

Patricia McCall, Executive Director of the Centre for Economic Growth, INSEAD also stressed the importance of private sector engagement, noting “The region’s private sector has an important and critical role to play in addressing the humanitarian crisis in our region. The joint event held by the Centre for Economic Growth at INSEAD in collaboration with UNHCR and Young Arab Leaders highlighted concrete actionable ways that the private sector can engage and impact these issues.” 

The significant role played by innovation and technology was also emphasised during the event, with a dedicated round-table discussion focusing on the important role the private sector could play complementing government response, particularly in critical sectors such as health, education, shelter and logistics.  The discussion also addressed the importance of the digital delivery of services for more efficient and effective response.

Commenting on the importance of increased utilisation of technology and innovation, UNHCR Advisory Council Member, Dr. Nasser Saidi noted “It is integral that we, as business leaders and the private sector provide support in humanitarian response, particularly through the deployment of modern and innovative technologies that make improve the efficiency, effectiveness and reach of humanitarian activities. It is also essential to work towards innovative forms of humanitarian assistance, in conjunction with international organisations, NGOs, tech companies and governments, which goes beyond in-kind donations, and reaffirms dignity such as cash assistance using bio-metrics such as iris-scan technology”

The roundtable also found that in order to encourage further private sector involvement, the not-for-profit sector and non-governmental organisations should ensure transparency, feedback, tangible outcomes and minimal overheads.

The Middle East and North Africa region currently hosts 39% of the world’s displaced persons. The Syria crisis alone has displaced over 4.8 million people into neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, where the largest number of refugees in relation to national population is present, with 183 refugees per 1000 inhabitants. Moreover, some 3 million people have been displaced in Iraq.

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