Corporate sector seeks Federation gateway to reduce vulnerability

Published: 13 September 2004 0:00 CET

Tapiwa Gomo and Andrei Neacsu in Algiers

“We have learned that we cannot act alone.”

These words, spoken by the International Federation’s president, Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, have been a recurring theme at the 6th Pan-African Conference of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, currently underway in Algiers.

At a time when Africa is grappling with the huge humanitarian challenges of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and preventable diseases, which are all too often compounded by natural disasters, conflict, poverty and inadequate health services, the Federation views value-based strategic partnership with the corporate sector and other more traditional partners as a way to mobilise competences and resources to reduce human suffering.

The importance the Federation attaches to such partnerships is evident by the number of representatives of corporations and international organisations not only present in Algiers, but taking an active part in proceedings.

Humanitarian pedigree

One of the most prominent corporate partners and conference sponsors is Nestlé, which has teamed up with the International Federation and National Societies in Africa in the fight against HIV and AIDS by providing technical and material assistance.

“Unlike other disaster situations where concerted action may be required for a short time only, HIV and AIDS requires a sustainable long-term commitment,” said Samuel Adenekan, Corporate Relations Manager for Nestlé Nigeria, who urged other businesses to join with international organisations, non-governmental organisations and civil society to fight the impact of HIV and AIDS.

“It is imperative for businesses to assume a wider responsibility in the social arena. Our collaboration (with the Red Cross and Red Crescent) enabled us to make a significant contribution to the prevention, care and control of HIV and AIDS through focused peer education projects. The pedigree and expertise of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in educational awareness, home-based care and community mobilisation is key to the successful partnership with Nestlé,” he added.

Nestlé signed an agreement with the International Federation in June 2002 to provide additional support on HIV/AIDS programmes in areas with the highest prevalence. The Kenyan and Nigerian Red Cross societies have already started implementing the programme, which seeks to strengthen their capacity in addressing HIV/AIDS issues.

The Federation is convinced that corporate social responsibility runs deeper than just simple charitable action on the part of the business world. “Economically and socially stable communities provide a better environment for commerce. Corporations recognise the benefits of social investment in the communities in which they operate, protecting their business interests through assistance to the local population,” Emmanuel Ijewere, president of the Nigerian Red Cross, told the conference.

“The Federation can help business through its experience and expertise to deliver community welfare, health, awareness of HIV/AIDS issues and disaster mitigation programmes throughout the world,” he added.

“Doing our best… all the time”

Another corporation that has signed a global agreement with the International Federation is the worldwide courier service, DHL. Its vice-president for corporate citizenship, Richard Corriette, told the conference that his company was convinced that the challenge of attaining human security was so great that solutions required the participation of all sectors of the society.

“The first step was to acknowledge that companies have skills that, if applied responsibly, can make a positive difference in the world; the second was to recognize that no actor has all the requisite competences to address alone some of today’s common challenges such as HIV and AIDS, and sizeable disaster response operations,” Corriette explained.

DHL has offices in more than 220 countries and territories across the world and worked closely with the Red Cross Red Crescent following recent earthquakes in Iran and Morocco. It is also involved in a major upcoming measles and malaria campaign in Togo.

The aim of the partnership is to combine the competencies of the two organisations to enhance the Federation’s ability to provide humanitarian relief quickly and effectively.

“By working together in specific areas through combining resources, skills and networks we believe the overall impact that can be achieved will be greater than if we work separately. We expect our projects to be joint efforts developed and delivered by DHL and Federation staff,” said Corriette.

“Release the potential”

The Federation has a long experience of cooperation with another corporation, the Swedish-based multinational Ericsson, which over the past four years has provided communications equipment and services during emergency operations in Tajikistan, Vietnam, El Salvador, India, Peru, Belize, Algeria, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Southern Africa and the Dominican Republic.

The partnership goes beyond the limits of responding to emergencies. Ericsson specialists have facilitated training sessions for Federation Field Assessment and Coordination Teams (FACT) and Emergency Response Units (ERU) among others.

In an attempt to better understand the particularities of humanitarian work Ericsson has gone further by sending its experts to Basic Training Courses (BTC) for delegates with the Swedish Red Cross. Some have already accomplished short missions as telecommunications delegates in the field. Their experience was then brought back into the enterprise and shared with colleagues and decision makers.

But isn’t there a risk of confusing roles? For private companies to believe they are humanitarian organisations and vice-versa? For the Federation’s National Societies to expect a flow of money that may never come?

Ericsson’s Dag Nielsen has a straightforward answer: “Don’t talk money, talk cooperation. Start with well-defined projects limited in time and with clear goals, but build long-term partnerships. Our main focus is to contribute to alleviating human suffering, not to support the (Red Cross Red Crescent) Movement.”

This is a welcome message from a Red Cross perspective. “In establishing partnerships with the corporate sector we must remain faithful to our seven fundamental principles and humanitarian mandate, said Anders Milton, President of the Swedish Red Cross.

“The question is not about selling our souls to the first ready to buy, but taking advantage of business expertise while injecting our values into the enterprise’s own blood. The benefit is mutual and brings the satisfaction of having a greater impact on the lives of the people we assist.”

The concept of corporate partnerships is relatively new to the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, but it has worked alongside United Nations agencies and other international humanitarian organizations for a long time.

The need to build on such partnerships so as to involve all segments of society and better serve the vulnerable in Africa has been stressed at the conference. Recognising this need is also crucial for the success of any community-based programme; the World Health Organisation (WHO) also underscored the need to join forces in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

“No challenge of the magnitude of this epidemic can be tackled by any one organisation alone, and partnerships are critical if we are to share the burden,” said Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, of the WHO’s HIV and AIDS partnerships department.

“Your vast networks of volunteers, your mission to improve the lives of vulnerable people by the power of humanity and your expertise in social mobilisation, makes you critical partners in the fight against HIV and AIDS,” he added.

Another forceful endorsement of the Federation’s potential came from the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP).

“Without the Federation, the UN and WFP in particular, could not reach most of its beneficiaries,” said Marianne Ward, head of international relations at the WFP.

“But it is important that we continue to develop our partnership in a coordinated manner through the Federation’s Secretariat if we are to have a more significant contribution to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and be together at the forefront of the fight to ensure that all who suffer from conflict, natural disasters, HIV and AIDS, or poverty are properly nourished and able to rebuild their lives” she added.