17 Aug #Xynteolife: The role of business in humanitarian affairs
On World Humanitarian Day, Xynteo´s Head of Communications Cecilie Sørhus shares her thoughts on the role that businesses can play in humanitarian affairs and how her background influences her work at Xynteo.
19 August is designated as World Humanitarian Day by the UN in recognition of and to pay tribute to humanitarian workers who have risked and lost their lives in humanitarian service. This year the theme is #NotATarget, which focuses on mobilising world leaders to protect civilians in conflict.
Businesses can provide aid much faster
Prior to joining Xynteo, Sørhus worked at the UK´s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Among other things, her work focused on private sector engagement in humanitarian crises. She also led DFID´s communications work for the Syria Conference, hosted by the UN and the UK, Norwegian, German and Kuwaiti governments in 2016, which raised almost $11 billion for the war in Syria.
“While working for DFID I realised that many companies wanted to engage in development work and humanitarian issues, but things often moved too slowly for them. Therefore, I wanted to bring my background and knowledge into a private company like Xynteo and see how we could accelerate and work much faster”, she says. Sørhus strongly believes that without the private sector it is hard for governments and non-profits to move fast enough and provide humanitarian assistance efficiently.
The image featured belongs to DFID and is from the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh by the photographer Russell Watkins/Department for International Development.
Sørhus brings her background into her work with business leaders at Xynteo. “Working in the development field creates a mindset that you bring when you transition into new sectors. You always think of other people and how you can help them”, she says. “Although our work at Xynteo is designed to be different, bringing businesses into the sphere of solving human problems is still at the heart of what we do”.
The private sector is vital in humanitarian affairs
Sørhus believes that the role of businesses in humanitarian crises is vital. “In addition to the capital, businesses have the ability to address the practical needs of vulnerable individuals in a crisis”. This ranges from setting up a refugee camp, providing food and other essential goods, getting people out of the refugee camp to providing people jobs”, Sørhus says. “By using global businesses and local suppliers we can provide supplies much cheaper and faster than, for example, shipping goods from a warehouse in Europe”.
According to Sørhus, an important aspect of providing humanitarian assistance is to utilise the skills of the people affected. “It is extremely important to see people as a resource rather than a burden”, she stresses. She highlights Embark as a good example of the role that businesses are playing to help in humanitarian affairs. This is a reverse mentoring scheme that came out of Xynteo´s Leadership Vanguard programme that connects Syrian refugees with Unilever business leaders in Turkey.
As 69 of the 100 largest economic entities in the world are businesses, it is clear that companies can play an important role in assisting individuals during humanitarian disasters.