Preparing for the Next Disaster: Partnering with the Local Private Sector for Sustainable Results

September 2, 2021

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UPS and Hurricane Dorian

When Hurricane Dorian struck The Bahamas in 2019, USAID led and coordinated the U.S. Government’s disaster response efforts, deploying an elite disaster team and providing nearly $34 million in humanitarian assistance. However, the private sector also proved critical in helping USAID mount a swift response. The United Parcel Service (UPS) airlifted more than six tons of USAID relief supplies to The Bahamas. All told, USAID coordinated support from more than 230 corporate foundations and 40 companies that donated goods, expertise, and services—in Amazon’s case, planes—to benefit those affected by the devastating storm.

Hurricane Dorian is an example of how collaboration with the private sector can augment disaster response and recovery efforts to achieve greater impact and save lives. Companies provide goods and services, generate employment, possess unique expertise and networks, and collectively contribute funding on par with USAID. From 2014-2020, USAID provided $33.8 billion in combined humanitarian assistance funding. The global private sector contributed around $41 billion in humanitarian assistance during this time, surpassing even USAID, as the largest single donor to crises around the world.   

However, with global humanitarian needs reaching $194 billion over the same time period, it is clear that emergency preparedness and response teams must look to new strategies to increase efficiency and effectiveness to close the financing gap and meet rising demand. Crucially, there is a need for all actors, including the private sector, to collaborate more deeply before disasters happen, so that lives are saved and recovery is swift. As climate change intensifies and unprecedented hurricanes, floods, droughts, and fires become the new normal, the public sector must partner with the private sector before calamities occur to minimize risk, protect assets and ensure a coordinated response.

To enhance cross-sector collaboration on natural disasters, the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) is testing new approaches to successfully integrate private sector engagement (PSE) into programming at the country level. These “pilot programs” are aimed at helping the humanitarian community understand how the private sector can make investments to mitigate the risk of disasters; increasing businesses’ participation in community disaster-preparedness plans and policies; reducing the social and economic impact of disasters; and supporting communities’ efforts to recover and rebuild after disaster strikes. These activities are co-created with the private sector and other local actors to identify the most relevant solutions, ensure buy-in, and improve the sustainability of partnerships both before and beyond a crisis.

“By gradually moving from evidence to action and generating learning through these PSE pilot programs, BHA hopes to increase staff uptake of PSE approaches to achieve USAID humanitarian assistance goals in contexts permissive to such interventions,” said BHA’s Acting Chief, Private Sector Engagement, Diaspora Engagement and Innovation Division, Emmanuel Nouga-Ngog.

Developing Risk Mitigation Strategies with the Private Sector in the Caribbean

Companies have a vested interest in reducing the risk of disasters, which can disrupt business operations, damage assets and infrastructure, disrupt supply chains, and harm employees. While a business may not be directly affected, its customers often are, and this translates to loss of business. Though many companies develop continuity plans, a disaster can affect an entire region or economy, not just select businesses, people, or supply chains. Cross-sector and cross-region collaboration is vital to share information and reduce risk. 

In the eastern Caribbean, USAID is working to more effectively engage the private sector in disaster preparedness and response. Building on a Private Sector Landscape Assessment conducted in the region in Spring 2020, the Agency wanted to dig deeper into the collaboration opportunities that emerged in the assessment. How might the private sector’s interest in cross-sector collaboration be harnessed in a way that could reduce the risk of disasters across the region? 

 USAID used systems thinking and human-centered design techniques to engage all affected stakeholders—from local small and medium enterprises to larger regional organizations and multinationals—in the creation of a platform that helps the private sector see the value in sustained investment in disaster risk reduction. 

Systems thinking is a holistic approach to solving problems that engages all people, organizations, and processes that affect a complex challenge, and takes into consideration how these actors interrelate and interact over time. A human-centered design technique centers solutions around the needs and perspectives of the people who are experiencing the problem.

Through interviews and large-scale workshops, USAID invited actors from across various systems, such as crisis response, public services, business infrastructure, and port operations, to think through solutions together.

Through a comprehensive discovery process that included more than 100 interviews and seven collaborative workshops, USAID engaged a wide range of cross-sector stakeholders, including humanitarian actors, representatives of National Disaster Management Agencies, and private sector teams and individuals from each of the seven focus islands for the pilot program. Business executives, entrepreneurs, micro enterprises, and multinational conglomerates shared perspectives across nine key sectors including hospitality, telecommunications, shipping and freight, energy, and more. 

The engagement explored areas of alignment between business interests and humanitarian goals, culminating in three focus areas for cross-sector collaboration: supply chains and logistics, communications and coordination, and business continuity. Then, USAID facilitated participants to draw connections and identify patterns across all three models to assess the underlying dynamics and map the current state against a potential future state (see diagram below). From there, they employed design thinking to ideate and prioritize which solutions to pursue that would aim to move the system from its current state with blockages around challenges, to a future state where those pain points are resolved.

Click here for an interactive map of the opportunities and challenges for public-private sector collaboration 

“USAID facilitated the systems mapping process to collectively identify potential areas of PSE versus designing the PSE approach beforehand,” said Ilena Paltzer, from the activity implementer Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI). “Instead, the stakeholders painted the picture. When you build collaboration among stakeholders, you know from the start that there’s a vested interest in being a part of the solution—because they’ve already helped map the system and highlight their own challenges that need solving.”

Over the coming months, USAID will continue to build out the Caribbean pilot program and monitor its effectiveness within the region and for potential application in other regions. The effort is just one of several new PSE approaches being tested by USAID to better mitigate disaster risk and impact. Other pilot programs in Indonesia and Vietnam (see below) are exploring collaborative approaches to engaging the private sector in earthquake and flood mitigation, respectively. 

“By documenting and evaluating the progress of these new PSE approaches, BHA hopes to provide a template for how USAID can strengthen local resilience as natural disasters continue to occur with increasing ferocity and frequency,” said USAID’s Nacasi Green, Activity Manager for the BHA Caribbean pilot project. The Agency is committed to shifting its approach to involve and learn from the private sector to create and implement solutions that improve outcomes and save more lives. 

About the 2021 BHA PSE Pilots

USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) provides life-saving humanitarian assistance—including food, water, shelter, emergency healthcare, sanitation and hygiene, and critical nutrition services— to the world’s most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach people. The Bureau recently introduced three new private-sector initiatives to more effectively engage the private sector in disaster risk mitigation and response. In addition to its work in the Caribbean, it is also exploring the following PSE approaches in Indonesia and Vietnam:

  • In Indonesia, BHA is working with Miyamoto International to develop an integrated earthquake preparedness, response, and recovery model that connects businesses with the resilience of their surrounding neighborhoods. Using data from building structural assessments, the model integrates earthquake simulation and imagination exercises with key stakeholders in the Jakarta area. Through this approach, key elements of the business and its neighborhood are assessed to understand how each element may be impacted by an earthquake disaster. The model also explores contingency measures, including a review of available market-based solutions to disaster risk financing, to improve preparedness and response, and speed up recovery in the event of an earthquake disaster.
  • In Vietnam, BHA is working with The Asia Foundation to leverage PSE to design and test new flood risk mitigation  strategies. The initiative is bringing together key private sector, local government, and civil society actors to collaboratively design and launch multi-stakeholder pilot projects to strengthen flood-mitigation efforts and improve the management of water networks in Quy Nhon City.

For more about the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and its lifesaving work, follow @USAIDSavesLives on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates.