HLA has long been committed to exploring how to leverage capacities from across the different sectors including aid, academia, government, and private sector in supporting the work involved in humanitarian logistics. During the past year (2019), HLA capitalised on various platforms provided to advance these discussions and explore opportunities for collaborations where they exist. In addition to the monthly thematic webinars hosted by HLA and its partners, HLA also hosted or had a strong representation in relevant international events including IDR Expo, AidEx Brussels, General Assembly Nairobi, International Transport Forum, and HNPW Geneva.

One key theme that emerged across these various engagements is the idea that indeed private sector actors in particular transport (freight and aviation) companies, and organizations working in finance can and do play a crucial role in support of aid delivery and emergency response on the whole. As such, these private sector organizations are seen as being particularly key to developments across two humanitarian logistics domains in particular – eco-supply chains, and cash operations.


Eco-supply chains

Private sector involvement in ensuring sustainable transport in emergency response, was underscored by the partners that HLA continue to engage in this area, including GEODIS, ATCO Frontec, Volga Dnepr, and Astral Aviation. One of the consensus that emerged is that there is a need to increase awareness across the aid sector about emerging policy regulations such as IMO 2020, that would impact humanitarian logistics. This is to enable actors across the humanitarian logistics supply chain to be more responsive towards ensuring more environmentally-friendly means of (ocean) transport.

As such, it was concluded that there is the need to continue to identify solutions to various challenges that affect the ability of aid actors to implement more environmentally-friendly approaches in humanitarian response. Key to this is leveraging the capacities of private sector organizations, through facilitating cross-sector knowledge sharing, and providing training and technical support as needed.

Cash operations

Experts across the sector are of the view that cash operations have the potential to greatly impact how the business of aid is conducted. According to Dr Sarah Schiffling of the Liverpool Business School, the pertinent question has shifted from “whether cash is right” to “when cash is right”. She emphasises that the systemic change brought by the increasing need to move to cash transfers requires that some necessary steps are taken across the sector. These include the need to critically examine the different forms and what each requires – e.g. social transfers, bank transmissions, person-to-person giving. There is also the need to consider the particular challenges presented by the tech aspect – i.e. management of data, and the digital divide in many regions of the world where aid operations are conducted. Finally, there is also the requirement to integrate aid cash operations within a larger (financial) system beyond humanitarian aid, which involves working closely with the private sector and national governments. From the cash operations discussions led by  Dr Amin Maghsoudi of the HUMLOG Research Institute at AidEx, it emerged that the issues that arise when switching from in-kind operations to cash regarding what to do with the infrastructure that has already being invested in, including warehouse, fleet, logisticians, etc. also need to be critically addressed in order to better manage these emerging challenges.

Nonetheless, these experts are optimistic that there are several good practices that can be drawn from to manage these concerns such as in the areas of providing training and technical support for humanitarian logistics personnel in the field; pursuing more positive engagements with national governments in particular towards fostering an understanding about local regulations; and strengthening internal procedures to better manage abuse and loses.

Recommendations going forward

Achieving more sustainable supply chains across humanitarian logistics, including through the medium of cash transfers can only be certain through taking the following steps.

  1. Fostering collaborations and building partnerships

This requires the need to work across the various sectors – aid organizations, government, academia, and private sector –, but also among aid organizations themselves. This involves sharing not only knowledge and tools (prevents fragmented approaches and constantly reinventing the wheel), but also lessons learned (both successes and failures).

  1. Recognising the crucial role of the private sector

Indeed, one of the key lessons emerging from the Cyclone Idai and Kenneth response, was that private sector involvement is key to not only more efficient aid efforts, but is also is crucial to saving lives. Many private sector organizations operating in the ocean freight and aviation space are committed to supporting the aid industry to meet its commitments as far as more eco-friendly logistics are concerned. These platforms need to be taken up and engagements strengthened to result in more tangible outcomes. With cash operations, private sector finance and tech-based organizations among other things offer aid organizations the ability to scale cash operations and pursue more innovative methods.   

  1. Aid organizations honouring their ultimate role

These goals of harnessing cross-sector capacities for improved humanitarian logistics cannot be fully achieved if aid organizations do not fulfil their ultimate role of acting as a connector of resources and a watchdog over aid efforts. This requires addressing pertinent concerns that arise such as the commercialisation of aid, maintaining standards of care, and safeguarding the Do No Harm principle of emergency response.

HLA will be putting these recommendations back on the agenda in 2020, starting with various collaborative and interactive sessions at HNPW Geneva next month.