Devex @Davos

Speakers during a session on “Avoiding a Centennial Slump" at the 2015 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Photo by: Benedikt von Loebell / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

Davos has a well-deserved reputation as the Swiss ski resort where the world's elite congregate each winter for big thinking, big business and big parties. It's also the scene for a group of participants that don't fit the usual mold: humanitarians and development leaders.

In fact, there are many here, from Winnie Byanyima of Oxfam to Helene Gayle of CARE and Elhadj As Sy of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. And they’re ensuring the world's poorest and most vulnerable have a voice on this stage.

Devex is here, too, as part of our mission to connect and inform global development professionals everywhere. There is much to report on, from discussions of income inequality to the latest scientific advancements for ending blindness. But there's one issue being talked about in the halls of the World Economic Forum that I want to bring to our members’ attention in particular: the future of the humanitarian system.

Today, four Level 3 emergencies are going on at the same time (the highest level, and a record). More than 50 million people are living forcibly displaced from their homes (the most since World War II). Climate change, fragile states and geopolitical conflict have created a situation in which humanitarian crises have reached a scale and severity seen never before in modern times. Think of Libya, Yemen, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria — the list goes on and on. Governments, aid agencies and their partners are stretched to their limits.

While humanitarians are operating at full capacity, one group that is not yet as engaged as it could be is the private sector. Of course charities commonly turn to big corporations for donations, and even though there's a limit to such philanthropy, it's important. But unlocking the enormous potential for the private sector to provide expertise, build markets, foster innovation and connect concerned citizens everywhere to those who are struggling is an opportunity that has not yet been seized in the humanitarian sector.

That's why the World Economic Forum created — for the first time — a humanitarian council. I'm honored to chair this diverse group of 20 nongovernmental and corporate leaders including Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council, David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee, Ed Martinez of UPS and Tara Nathan of MasterCard.

There is no quick fix to complex human crises, but we want to ensure the private sector is fully engaged in empowering people to live another day and build a better future. To that end, I am focused on pushing our council toward practical interventions we can make that will create tangible opportunities for systemic private sector engagement in the humanitarian space. We're considering everything from helping to make needs assessment information more robust using the latest technologies and crowdsourcing to accelerating the adoption of electronic payment systems for humanitarian relief.

In opening our council's work to the Devex community, I would like to encourage ideas from all our members — and especially those of you working far from Davos on the front lines of crises — about how best to engage the private sector in humanitarian response.

Please reach me on Twitter @raj_devex. I welcome your thoughts and will share my own impressions here from Davos, where I am finding real interest in aligning incentives and fostering a deeper collaboration worthy of the scale of the challenge the world faces.

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About the author

  • Raj kumardevex

    Raj Kumar

    Raj Kumar is the founding president and editor-in-chief at Devex, the media platform for the global development community. He is a media leader and former humanitarian council chair for the World Economic Forum and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. His work has led him to more than 50 countries, where he has had the honor to meet many of the aid workers and development professionals who make up the Devex community.