Aid & Trade 2008, an overview

Kema Lema, traducción al español Rocio Gomez
31 January 2008

Every year, the International Fair of Aid & Trade is held in Geneva at the end of January. During the event, issues related to humanitarian aid and development are being discussed by leading figures of both the private and the public sector. ICVolunteers was once again involved in the event working with over 30 volunteers dealing with reporting, room supervision and registration. The following report provides a genuine overview regarding the most pressing issues discussed.

"Building Partnerships for Relief and Development"

This is the theme which forms the mainstay of Aid + Trade. The aim is to bring together UN organizations, NGOs and aid agencies, governmental and inter-governmental bodies, academics and the business community to coordinate their efforts in a bid to maximize efficiency and effectiveness of development, humanitarian and relief aid, and disaster response.

Huge amounts of resources are wasted as a result of duplication of efforts simply because there was lack of communication and coordination. The private sector, with vast resources at their disposal, may be willing to put out substantial aid, financial or otherwise, but without proper guidance from those in touch with the situation, these resources may be inappropriately allocated. Aid + Trade was thus a Forum to address numerous issues but a contentious one, as there is a "cause and effect" loop.

Business vs Ethics

It is an unfortunate fact, but a disaster somewhere means a gain for somebody else! Businesses that supply equipment used specifically in disaster situations will not survive in the absence of such disasters. However, there is a new trend towards encouraging private companies to become socially responsible. Social responsibility will, or at least should, bring companies to recognize and understand the needs of the global community, and as such, tailor its activities in such a way as to ultimately benefit both themselves, and the wider community. The logic is simple: people will continue to do business with a company they trust and feel safe with. A company they feel is giving back something and not just making a profit.

Pubic-Private Partnerships (PPPs)

In a workshop session on Financing for Development, emphasis was made by the Moderator, Charles Ansbach, Managing Consultant Skystone Ryan Corporation (www.ansbachassoc.com and http://skystoneryan.com on the importance of partnerships between the international private sector and local governments or NGOs. He referred to these as PPPs (public-private partnerships). One of the ideas behind PPPs is to pool together resources --which the local institutions may have-- and expertise --which typically comes in from the private sector-- and produce better quality and focused services. However, there still exists suspicion in many public institutions about the intentions of the private sector. It is still believed by many that to the private sector, nothing is more important than profits, and they may go any lengths, including disguising themselves as humanitarians, in order to attain those profits. It is also believed that these private sector companies want the situation in these impoverished regions to remain as is so that they may keep reaping profits from the dependency of local actors. This is rather unfortunate as it was argued by Drew Harding Executive Director of Harvest Aid Inc (www.harvestaidinc.org), who talked about the idea of 'venture philanthropy'. This is an initiative where philanthropists and private sector philanthropic institutions come together with governments and NGOs to develop and get involved in meaningful specific sustainable interventions, rather than involvements that create dependencies. There is apparently "... a huge thrust of people who want to be involved in such charitable activities."

NGO Funding

Charles Ansbach opened the session by stating: "...without money there is no way you can sustain any kind of mission..." To this effect he advocated that NGOs should adopt a much more business-like approach in the way they fundraise and handle their own money. In terms of funding sources, they should be aware of, and take into account, the needs and interests of corporations they approach so that they may incorporate these in their activities as a way of keeping the donors motivated. In terms of business proposals and projects, recipients should not be viewed as passive beneficiaries but as people to be empowered independent. This line of thought sparked concern as to the inevitability of NGOs becoming more business and profit oriented and as such undermining their very essence.

Local Sourcing

Sylvie Bétemps Cochin, Trade Promotion Adviser at the International Trade Centre (ITC) (www.intracen.org), in her presentation on Sustainable African Development, brought to the attention of the workshop that ore than 50% of world aid is channeled to Africa but only 15% of that is locally sourced within the continent. This is not a very encouraging statistic. African countries needed to simplify their unnecessarily complex procurement process, improve poor local transport, develop information flow systems, minimize incidental costs and facilitate a business-enabling environment. It should not, for example, be cheaper to airfreight a consignment of blankets from Europe than to drive them from one region of a country to another, or even from a neighbouring country.

Climate Change

Pasi Rinne, Chairman of ProAct Network and Jon Godson, Chartered Environmentalist (http://proactnetwork.org), brought to the Financing for Development session another startling statistic. The effects of global warming will be acutely felt in the poorest regions in the world, above all in Africa, the continent which, it must be pointed out, is least responsible for adverse climate change. It may be encouraging to know that over the last 12 months, there has been a 70% increase in funding for issues related to climate change. Unfortunately, only 3% of these will go to Africa, where the impact will be worst! This undoubtedly puts the spotlight on humanitarian organizations and how they operate. They must assess the environmental impact of their activities. Unfortunately, in some cases it may be necessary to ignore the environmental impact of projects that may, in the immediate short term, benefit its recipients.

Behind the Scenes

"You guys have been such a gem! It's made things easy so working so easy working with ICV" This was a comment from Diva Rodriguez, Aid + Trade Office manager at the event who worked very closely with the reporting team, ensuring they had constant access to computers and more importantly that all power point presentations for the workshop sessions were readily available.

The experience was enlightening for volunteers as well, as Janina Mank explained: "Aid + Trade has opened my eyes to a world of humanitarian action I didn't know existed, and I love the approach of bringing humanitarian organizations and businesses together. For me, personally, it meant getting an insight into the practical aspects of humanitarian action, whilst actively participating by writing a report that will have my name on it, and thus hopefully contributing to a better understanding between the humanitarian and the supply sector".

For more detailed reports on the issues highlighted in this article and indeed the whole range of reports on the workshop sessions, please visit www.aidandtrade.org.

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