Photo: Corporal Paul Shaw/MOD

The impact of the Ebola outbreak on West Africa has been devastating for families, communities and public health systems already under severe strain.    At the same time, the economic impact on the three main countries Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has been crippling, with the World Bank estimating that they will suffer a combined $1.6 billion in economic losses in 2015 due to the ongoing outbreak. Unemployment rates are also expected to remain high, with cross-border traders, private-sector wage earners and the self-employed among the worst hit.  Liberia’s growth forecast for 2015 has been cut in half and projected growth in Sierra Leone and Guinea for 2015 has shrunk to below zero. These countries all had healthy growth rates predicted for 2015 before the epidemic.

Whilst the focus of the response to ebola has inevitably been on putting in place the necessary resources for agencies and medical staff to treat and support those directly affected, the important role business can play is increasinly apparent.  From ensuring investment and financing continues to flow, to making available product and service innovations that overcome logistical challenges and reaching  employees, suppliers and customers with advice on how to stay safe, business can play an important supporting role.

This online discussion will explore how the private sector can best contribute in the wake of a major public health emergency and identify lessons learned for the future.

Key questions for the discussion are:

  • How can business best contribute to tackling public health crisis’ like ebola?
  • What have we learned from the on-going ebola outbreak about how to successfully mobilise a business response, and where are the business innovations happening?
  • How can public-private collaboration enhance the impact of business’s contribution?

 

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I completely agree, Ruth. The response has to meet the needs of the situation – and the needs of people in the situation. That’s why, in the case of a crisis, we normally work with NGO partners on the ground who can identify these immediate needs and inform our response. For example, we partnered with Save the Children and were able to respond to a request for funds to support their healthcare centres in the countries affected by Ebola. 


Ruth Mhlanga said:

However, private sector involvement is not always clear cut and because businesses exist to turn a profit, their interventions are often viewed with some distrust as to their true purpose. This is particularly so for companies with a specific business interest or stake in the crisis, for example pharmaceutical and medical supply companies during the Ebola crisis. Here there is a potential conflict of interest, in order to ensure that there is neutrality and impartiality and that humanitarian relief is provided based solely on needs requires scrupulous accountability and transparency. 

 

The basis of humanitarian intervention should always be the needs of people. OCHA/WEF   have laid out principles  which are meant to serve as a guide to the private sector and the humanitarian community, with an emphasis on communicating key humanitarian principles as well as integrating elements of lessons learnt from previous private sector engagement.

 

 This includes the need for the Private Sector to provide

a)      Transparency and accountability concerning their objectives, funding and potential commercial interests;

b)     Guarantee that involvement should not be exploitative through excessive profiteering, market establishment or brand positioning;

c)      Understanding of/signing up to humanitarian principles – at a minimum sign up to OCHA/WEF principles and be accountable to it.

 

It important to remember that while gifts in kind like vehicles for transportation are crucial to saving lives during a humanitarian crisis financial contributions are often the fastest way to mobilise resources effectively. There have been times when donations in kind in have been inappropriate and actually slowed down the response.  

Thanks for all the insights so far.  Let's move on to question 2:

Q2: What have we learned from the on-going ebola outbreak about how to successfully mobilise a business response, and where are the business innovations happening?

To build on the point made earlier by David Easton ... Linking up with the public and privates sector is key to matching the right strengths. We have worked with partners, like the CDC and are a member of the Sierra Leone Ebola Private Sector Mobilisation Group (EPSMG), working on optimising Ebola support with local MNCs operating in Sierra Leone (Reviewing logistics support, non EVD community care and screening efforts as well as advocacy locally and internationally around issues such as restricted entry to countries, reduced access via air and sea etc)

Also, sharing what we have learned and tested in the form of our business continuity protocols with other corporates and NGOs has helped other in their preparation and ongoing work and enhanced our own business continuity plans and how we can support the broader region ... even all the way to East Africa when the Marburg (a strain of the Ebola virus) was identified.

 

 


Penelope - I agree with that. And lots of businesses we know did manage to carry on operating throughout the crisis. Clearly it wasn't easy, but I was positively surprised by the degree of continuity of operations for many companies.

The key thing now is to ensure that investors who were just getting used to the idea of investing in Liberia and Sierra Leone don't abandon the idea of investing altogether. I think that's a key role for friends of both countries in the next phase.


Penelope Anderson said:

Hi everyone -- this is Penny Anderson, Mercy Corps Country Director in Liberia. Glad to be part of this discussion.

How can business best contribute to overcoming health crises like Ebola? By staying in business! During the height of the crisis here in Liberia, we saw a fair amount of investor aversion. Big businesses and small closed up shop. While this was understandable, it also increased the impact of the epidemic on the population, who were suddenly deprived of livelihoods and access to the market.

I think this raises a good point on involving the people impacted. People should be at the heart of the intervention and the communities able to determine their own priorities. 

 


Jo-Ann Pohl The Bank’s experience in dealing with the SARS outbreak in 2003 and flu pandemic in 2009 was invaluable in terms learnings on business continuity and support in a crisis. Two things that stand our are the power of a collective effort and knowlege ...

  • Join Forces! There is strength in numbers
  • Create awareness! Empower the people impacted

Again on Q2 at the heart of this is the ability to liaise with communities  and stakeholders using existing communications channels to get the word out. Perhaps this crisis saw business reaching out a bit more to stakeholders they ordinarily would not have 



David Easton said:


Penelope - I agree with that. And lots of businesses we know did manage to carry on operating throughout the crisis. Clearly it wasn't easy, but I was positively surprised by the degree of continuity of operations for many companies.

The key thing now is to ensure that investors who were just getting used to the idea of investing in Liberia and Sierra Leone don't abandon the idea of investing altogether. I think that's a key role for friends of both countries in the next phase.


Penelope Anderson said:

Hi everyone -- this is Penny Anderson, Mercy Corps Country Director in Liberia. Glad to be part of this discussion.

How can business best contribute to overcoming health crises like Ebola? By staying in business! During the height of the crisis here in Liberia, we saw a fair amount of investor aversion. Big businesses and small closed up shop. While this was understandable, it also increased the impact of the epidemic on the population, who were suddenly deprived of livelihoods and access to the market.

Hi Penelope,

absolutely agree!! This is where multinational corporates can support local business by partnering - and humanitarian stakeholders can facilitate this process with communities, international donor partners and coordination support. It is striking that despite all challenges multiple agencies were able to mobilise a number of vaccine trials within shortest time. There was significant private sector commitment, which - if we better prepare all jointly for future disasters and enhance role of local business role in this - would result in more efficiency, effectiveness and impact!

Being able to operate in a crisis is key, in fact as a Bank this was critical so we partnered with customers and clients to support business continuity. This included simple things, like refreshed banking hours, maintaining staff morale as they pushed to deliver faster turnaround times on client requests including emergency facilities (e.g. trade facilitation payments to import health equipment) to opening bank accounts for aid organisations to pay doctor and nurses and facilitate relief funding, e.g. UN, WHO


David Easton said:


Penelope - I agree with that. And lots of businesses we know did manage to carry on operating throughout the crisis. Clearly it wasn't easy, but I was positively surprised by the degree of continuity of operations for many companies.

The key thing now is to ensure that investors who were just getting used to the idea of investing in Liberia and Sierra Leone don't abandon the idea of investing altogether. I think that's a key role for friends of both countries in the next phase.


Penelope Anderson said:

Hi everyone -- this is Penny Anderson, Mercy Corps Country Director in Liberia. Glad to be part of this discussion.

How can business best contribute to overcoming health crises like Ebola? By staying in business! During the height of the crisis here in Liberia, we saw a fair amount of investor aversion. Big businesses and small closed up shop. While this was understandable, it also increased the impact of the epidemic on the population, who were suddenly deprived of livelihoods and access to the market.

It's great to see around 200 people tuned in for this discussion.  Please do share your comments and insights!

David, absolutely agree. A key part of the recovery is re-establishing those business links. Liberia is now officially Ebola-free. If business found opportunity here in 2013, they will find it again in 2015. So how to we move that forward?

David Easton said:


Penelope - I agree with that. And lots of businesses we know did manage to carry on operating throughout the crisis. Clearly it wasn't easy, but I was positively surprised by the degree of continuity of operations for many companies.

The key thing now is to ensure that investors who were just getting used to the idea of investing in Liberia and Sierra Leone don't abandon the idea of investing altogether. I think that's a key role for friends of both countries in the next phase.


Penelope Anderson said:

Hi everyone -- this is Penny Anderson, Mercy Corps Country Director in Liberia. Glad to be part of this discussion.

How can business best contribute to overcoming health crises like Ebola? By staying in business! During the height of the crisis here in Liberia, we saw a fair amount of investor aversion. Big businesses and small closed up shop. While this was understandable, it also increased the impact of the epidemic on the population, who were suddenly deprived of livelihoods and access to the market.

I think for truly effective mobilisation, it was important for there to be a clear leadership role from government and the primary partners - the UN and the "other CDC" (Centre for Disease Control). Then it is important for business (and indeed NGOs) to fall in line behind the direction set by that leadership. It wasn't easy - because government capacity is weak (which is part of the problem in the first place) - but it is critical. 



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for all the insights so far.  Let's move on to question 2:

Q2: What have we learned from the on-going ebola outbreak about how to successfully mobilise a business response, and where are the business innovations happening?

Agree Ruth, we have to acknowledge that this is all about people and with just under a 100 new cases in Guinea the issue remains high on the radar and top of mind with families, communities and economies impacted.

Ruth Mhlanga said:

I think this raises a good point on involving the people impacted. People should be at the heart of the intervention and the communities able to determine their own priorities. 

 


Jo-Ann Pohl The Bank’s experience in dealing with the SARS outbreak in 2003 and flu pandemic in 2009 was invaluable in terms learnings on business continuity and support in a crisis. Two things that stand our are the power of a collective effort and knowlege ...

  • Join Forces! There is strength in numbers
  • Create awareness! Empower the people impacted

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