The frequency, intensity and complexity of disasters will increase over the coming decades. Globalisation means the impacts of those disasters on business and communities are increasingly evident, and businesses are being called upon to scale up their response to such events by internal and external stakeholders. Through their actions, businesses have demonstrated that business and social value can be increased by taking a strategic approach to international disasters, building the business case and developing long term collaborative partnerships.
Businesses play an important role in addressing international disasters. Beyond financial contributions, they can offer skills, products and services, leverage their core business assets and competencies, and through collaborative partnerships, help address the impact of disasters.
The UPS International Disaster Relief and Resilience Award, supported by the Department for International Development award recognises business’ unique contribution to addressing international disasters, helping communities at risk to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.
Airbnb has taken strides to meet its ambitious goal of providing short-term housing for 100,000 people who find themselves in desperate need following emergencies. The online letting marketplace has developed a tool which automatically contacts hosts in areas impacted by a disaster - asking property owners if they have extra space to share with their displaced neighbours (or relief workers).
All booking fees are waived if a host chooses to list their space free of charge, and both parties are offered Airbnb’s around the clock customer support. Working in concert with local and national government to asses needs, Airbnb has over four years helped thousands of people in challenging circumstances. Last June, Airbnb was among companies recognised by America’s government for its response to the global refugee crisis.
When disaster strikes, crippled communication systems can hinder relief efforts. Cisco's Tactical Operations is a highly skilled and dedicated team that can mobilise and respond in times of crisis anywhere in the world within 72 hours. It’s recent stand out work includes the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the response to which has been deployed at more than 75 locations in Europe and had over 500,000 individual users. The Syrian conflict has been unique in that there are very active cyber attacks all sides of the conflict, with both humanitarian workers and civilians targeted. Cisco was able to leverage world beating cybersecurity expertise to deliver protection for refugees and aid workers who are in vulnerable situations in the midst of a larger crisis.
Dr Zigs manufactures sustainable giant bubble toys and runs a programme called Bubbles Not Bombs, a project that sees them sending bubbles and support to children in need around the world. The toy firm use bubbles as a way to raise money and donations of aid, food and clothing for refugees in desperate need arriving in Europe. They have sent bubble kits to Kenya, Uganda, Chernobyl, the West Bank, Delhi, Bhopal, Burma, Lebanon and Syria, Romania and many other places with very vulnerable young people. Dr Zigs offers bubble play and therapy for crowds of children in refugee camps and estimates that 5% of their profit goes into Bubbles not Bombs.
Professional services company Ernst & Young (EY) has proven to be a leading business in understanding the international refugee crisis and potential solutions. Its holistic approach to leadership on the issue has seen it publish two thought white paper reports. The multinational looked at various aspects of the problem: the root causes of the crisis; optimising aid and capacity building; the efficiency of asylum systems; legal frameworks and policies; communication with migrants; and measures to accelerate social and economic integration.
An example of how their thinking has played out on the ground is seen through its EY Germany team, which together with Germany’s Charta der Vielfalt (Diversity Charter), is coordinating a project bringing together businesses, government bodies and social groups to help refugees integrate with the workforce and rebuild their lives. EY assists specifically with communication to refugees, including guidance on education and employment opportunities to displaced people whose needs are severe.
The devastating Uttarakhand floods and landslides of June 2013 affected more than nine million people, with death toll of more than 4,000. As a response to the tragedy and a sign of its commitment to the north Indian state, GAIL launched Project Shrijan (Creation). The gas company sought to extend long term support to the people in and around affected areas, achieving this through a cross-sector and forward-thinking approach to disaster management.
The resilience raising exercises implemented by GAIL have included: the provision of new skills and career paths to reduce dependence on conventional sources of employment – to date 7,614 individuals have been supported. In another example, the company is encouraging a stronger and more diverse economy in the region. It is doing this by supporting more women to become involved in the project, including enterprise supporting initiatives such as micro financing and inter-loaning.
When disaster struck last August through the powerful Amatrice earthquake in central Italy, Mail Boxes Etc. acted quickly to mobilise its network of more than 500 franchises across the country. The headquarters of the shipping and packaging company worked in collaboration with nearby settlements – Arquata del Tronto and Norcia – directly supporting thousands of people in these areas with vital deliveries following the devastation which killed 297 people and injured and displaced thousands more.
Each franchise of Mail Boxes Etc. was supported in collecting food and materials donated by customers / citizens before sending them to areas of need, often bearing the costs on those who has made donations. The initiative engaged both private and business customers of its network. Today the company continues to work on fundraising for a reconstruction programme, including three further major earthquakes which took place across Italy.
The Mastercard Aid Network is transforming the way NGOs and other aid agencies deliver support to people in greatest need. It digital voucher platform utilises chip cards, Android devices, and an easy-to-navigate app to modernise and improve the distribution of aid. Back 2013, Mastercard had gathered five leading international NGOs – Mercy Corps, CARE, Grameen Foundation, World Vision, and the World Food Programme – to identify challenges related to aid distribution. Slightly over a year later, the Mastercard Aid Network was launched.
The end-to-end service is designed to streamline distributions both for short-term disaster relief and ongoing, long-term developmental support programs. It is replacing paper vouchers with a tool that helps stimulate local markets. Over the past five years, Mastercard has responded to international disasters in nine countries with six different partners and the company estimates that nearly half a million people have been impacted by its app.
what3words offers a simple yet innovative digital solution to location, based on a three-word address system. The app, which crosses language barriers, divides the entire planet into a 3m x 3m grid and has proven hugely effective for humanitarian and disaster response organisations, and individuals alike. Partners include the United Nations disaster reporting app UN-Asign, which has integrated what3words’ technology.
In 2016 the tech company was key in the response to the aftermath of three large international disasters: Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, Typhoon Haima in the Philippines, and the Ecuadorian earthquake which displaced 26,000 people. In the latter instance its service was used to restore telecommunications to the area. Meanwhile through its National Postal Service partnerships (Ivory Coast, Djitouti, Mongolia, Tonga and St Maarten), approximately 25 million people have been given a fixed address, many for the first time.
This article first appeared on the Business in the Community Website.
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