Aidex 2015: British Red Cross shares experiences and lessons learned
Aidex is an international event for professionals in the aid and development fields that bring together suppliers, policy makers and representatives from NGOs for an exhibition, conference and workshops to facilitate exchange and improve aid delivery. The theme for 2015 was "Collaboration", to promote partnerships among all stakeholders, including commercial organisations with the not-for-profit sector.
In the face of growing needs and dwindling resources, partnerships with the private sector have become more important for aid organisations. Alongside Pamela Steele (PSA ltd), Catherine Russ (Partnership Brokers Association), Lionel Bodin (Accenture Development Partnerships), and Rolando Mario Tomasini (UNOPS), Rowan Johnson, Private Sector Advisor at the British Red Cross, participated in the panel discussion "Collaboration - You'll work harder than you ever imagined".
Moderated by Pamela Steele, discussions uncovered some of the myths of partnership working, with speakers sharing their insights into how rewarding and successful partnerships can be established. Catherine Russ started by underlining that collaboration is not simple, and goes beyond common sense and good project management, as perceptions of "good common sense" can vary widely between different actors. “It's not only a science - because we have discovered that there are many tools and processes that we can use with partnerships,” she said. "It is also an art, because the human element - the building of relationships, is massive.” Ms Steele stressed that partnerships are not always the solution. "There are many problems that we can resolve on our own,” she said, adding that "partnerships should only be reserved for instances when collaboration, and a variety of views and resources are necessary.” While recognising the importance of proper reflection before shifting to a partnerships mindset, Lionel Bodin highlighted the potential added value of partnerships, beyond funding. "Partnerships are really needed when we want to tap into things that are of high value, but that you cannot buy", such as know-how, skills, contacts and influence.
Rowan Johnson went on to provide the Red Cross perspective from the field. "Having a vision for collaboration is absolutely critical,” she said. "But also having a strategy and a policy to underwrite it.” It is important to think hard about what collaboration means in terms of delivering outcomes and operational priorities, as wasting time and resources is unacceptable in the humanitarian and development sector. Therefore, "we need to put the work in internally first, to collaborate internally to have a shared platform of understanding on which to build partnerships,” she said, stressing the need for this type of reflection to involve different actors from across the organisation, including corporate fundraising and operations. "We look for the common ground when it comes to working with a company,” Ms Johnson shared. "We think about using scenario planning to anticipate stumbling blocks and to try and mitigate risk as far as possible,” she added, concluding that there "are no excuses" for not engaging in partnerships, as they can enable making a strong, positive impact, even in the most complex of crises.
Finally, Rolando Mario Tomasini closed the session by emphasising that the move away from linear procurement relationships to wider partnerships requires establishing a shared value, not only with the partner, but also with the whole range of stakeholders, including civil society, governments and ministries, and NGOs - something which takes time and can be challenging.
An example of collaboration in action: the Ebola Private Sector Mobilisation Group (EPSMG)
From the early stages of the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the British Red Cross on behalf of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement provided the Ebola Private Sector Mobilisation group (EPSMG) with regular humanitarian updates. These updates included information on the locations and causes of spikes in the epidemic, with a view to informing the companies and their workforces on how to support efforts to contain and prevent the spread of Ebola. Given that each employee in many West African countries has on average 25 dependents, the Red Cross was able to use the EPSMG network as an additional communications channel for hygiene messaging, and to help to decrease the stigma faced in-country by the Safe and Dignified Burial teams. Member companies of the EPSMG, including ArcelorMittal who convened the group, contributed to the response to the Ebola outbreak with financial and in-kind donations such as vehicles and storage space.
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