Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Private sector helps to fill UN funding gaps, needs

Ikea and UNHCR's knowledge-sharing collaboration shows how global companies can provide solutions that really work Tim Smedley, Monday 30 July 2012 15.34 BST
refugee camp in Peshawar Pakistani children walk along a path in a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photograph: Greg Baker/AP How Ikea's partnership with the UN is helping child refugees It started with a tent. In 2009 the IKEA Foundation – the philanthropic arm of Ikea – partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with the idea of designing a new tent for emergency refugee accommodation. Given the foundation's core aim to improve opportunities for children in developing countries, and that half of all refugees are children, it seemed a good fit. Not just that, but designing flat-packed home and furniture solutions was something that Ikea knew it could do well. At any given time, UNHCR has the capacity to respond to an emergency involving up to 600,000 people, within 72 hours. Currently, the tents it provides are only suitable for six months. In reality, many refugee camps remain for several years. Children literally grow up in them. As such, routinely replacing tents comes at a big cost. "Because Ikea's core competence is about improving homes we thought it would be a very interesting way to co-operate," says Olivier Delarue, the UNHCR's senior advisor on private sector partnerships. "Flat-packing ... is so critical for UNHCR in terms of reduction of cost and efficiency for loading aircraft or trucks." Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation explains: "We are looking to develop a solution that fits the same requirements in terms of cost and weight, size and packaging, because they need to be airlifted out to people at very short notice. So we are trying a more lasting solution, a shelter that would last for many years ... which would ultimately solve a big financial problem." A knowledge partnership However, collaborating over tents soon led to a much broader remit. "We realised that we could do so much more together than just a shelter," says Delarue. "We could work together as partners in a more holistic way." This became an innovative "knowledge partnership", whereby Ikea could share with UNHCR its entire supply chain and logistics expertise. "What we normally do as a foundation is provide monetary donations", explains Heggenes. "In this case we said we wanted to take it one step further and see if we could find a way of helping UNHCR to be more efficient in what they do in the supply chain. "The reason being that Ikea is a large international company dependent on having a very efficient supply chain and might have some tricks up their sleeve." "Refugees are probably one of the most marginalised groups in the world, they don't attract a lot of interest from the private sector. We looked at the situation and felt we could get involved and help children that are growing up in very difficult circumstances." Aligning objectives In June 2012, the IKEA Foundation brought together logistics experts from IKEA and UNHCR for 11 workshops across seven specialist areas: quality, product design, packaging, warehouse network design, procurement, transportation and IT. The similarities of size and scale between Ikea's and the UNHCR's logistics offered what Delarue calls a "values fit". For such a partnership to work, he says, "It has to fit the strategic objective of the company and respond to the needs of an organisation like UNHCR. If there's a miss-match then the partnership will not go very far ... the deeper the roots of a partnership, the longer and more fruitful the partnership will be." Indeed, Delarue argues that the partnership has not only been of benefit to the UNHRC logistics team. "Ikea has learnt from UNHCR as well because we operate in a very unusual and difficult places ... so the logistics guys from Ikea were also exposed to different realities." The teams were, he says, excitedly comparing photographs. Giving expertise, not just money Delarue believes this form of knowledge-sharing works best with large companies who truly understand the global complexities that humanitarian organisations face. "The core competencies and the transfer of knowledge is a difficult undertaking to make it successful, therefore it is [currently] reserved to only a few companies where the value fit is strong enough", he says. The select few for UNHCR currently includes partnerships with Microsoft and PwC on ICT projects for refugees in very remote areas; ManPower for training and skills assessments; HP for learning and development technology; Facebook, Yahoo and Google to maximise digital presence during emergencies. Even Lego is providing educational toys for refugee children. While UNHCR partners with smaller companies too, the current focus is on fundraising. However, Heggenes believes that the potential for knowledge partnerships need not be the sole reserve of blue chip companies. "I think companies of any size can do this," he says. "It's about sharing knowledge. If it fits the needs of a humanitarian organisation, then any company can do that ... we're not only giving [UNHCR] money but also giving them expertise, and I think that is just as valuable – maybe even more valuable." The government can not do this alone As austerity measures increasingly infect the global economy, relying on the world's governments is no longer an option for UNHCR. "We have a $3.7bn budget that is voluntarily funded, and we currently have around $1.2bn of unfunded activity – activity on the ground that we cannot do because we don't have the funding for it", informs Delarue. "The secretary general Ban Ki-moon has said we will not be able to solve the problems of the world without the private sector, that it is a critical part of the solution." Heggenes draws a similar conclusion. "As some governments are experiencing financial difficulties, [humanitarian organisations] see a reduction in funding on the one hand and an increase in need on the other. So there is a gap, and I think ... the private sector can fill that gap. "I think the business world has also come to recognise that it has to play a bigger role ... and with more involvement from the private sector on the funding side you also see an increased engagement on knowledge-sharing. As we go forward I think knowledge-sharing could be just as important as donating money." As for its own partnership with UNHCR, Heggenes says it too early to assess what it has achieved. His gut feeling is that Ikea will do more of this in future. It is Delarue's gut feeling for the UN too. "The private sector partnership is a new world for the UN", he says. "Not many organisations are able to harness the power of the private sector in a way that is truly beneficial for all parties involved. "This is something that I have been driving forward – to maximise our relationship with the private sector in a way that is a win-win-win: a win for the refugees, a win for the company, and a win for the humanitarian organisation as well."

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