At the recently concluded Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW), held in Geneva, HLA teamed up with Airlink to host a workshop (mini conference) to explore some issues impacting humanitarian logistics (HumLog) as stakeholders across the sector look to the future. The workshop saw participation from key supporters and partners including Volga Dnepr, UN OCHA, Logistics Learning Alliance (LLA) and the Hanken University HUMLOG Institute.

Foremost on the agenda was the subject of how best to foster private sector engagement in HumLog. This is a theme HLA had begun exploring more in-depth in 2019, with discussions undertaken at the General Assembly in Nairobi, AidEx Brussels, and finally at IDR London. This session focused on the aviation industry, to underscore how integral it continues to be to HumLog, as seen from lessons learned such as from the Cyclone Idai response when, according to HLA chief executive George Fenton, ‘the private sector played a pivotal role in saving hundreds of lives through the effective coordination of available helicopters during the immediate aftermath of the flood crisis.”

Participants emphasised the need for greater and better collaboration among the different partner groups on disaster preparedness through common guidelines (on airport procedures for example), joint training and workshops (on search and rescue, for example). They also discussed how to tackle some challenges that continue to impact this work, including customs clearance procedures. They suggested proactiveness in managing bottlenecks at ports of entry so critical emergency goods can be transported quickly.

The suggestion of forming effective local logistics coordination groups was once again advanced, with a call for the inclusion of  roles for stakeholders from academia also. However, the scale at which efforts should be deployed remains a vital question, as are the possibilities for localization. In identifying what some best practices are, stakeholders present were also tasked to recognise the potentials presented by the more organic collaborations that occur on the ground during emergencies, for example in combining cargo and pooling other resources.

The concluding session at the workshop focused attention on information sharing, knowledge management, and other forms of collaboration. Once again, some best practices shared are in the domain of the private sector regarding synchronised database systems, though limitations posed by inaccessibility to some geographical areas still exists which hamper adoption by NGOs.

Some perspectives shared from academia is that in areas in the Middle East for example, linkages between actors in the sector do not exist between humanitarian actors which could hamper any private sector efforts on the ground.

On the part of HLA, we’re looking to better capture information and knowledge in this changing and complex landscape in order to support these efforts. We recognise the demand for this knowledge at the local level in particular and as such, are working with others to determine what are the appropriate tools and approaches to use to respond to this demand.

The sessions concluded on the following main points. Firstly, private sector has resolved many of the technical and data management challenges faced by the humanitarian sector with respect to logistics. However, what remains is a robust process for sharing information and knowledge, especially regarding the standards and guidelines to be used. The ongoing Inspire Consortium Universal Logistics Standards (ULS) project could present some solutions with respect to harmonised standards tailored to the needs of the humanitarian sector. To this end, the private sector was tasked with ensuring that the support they offer is context-specific by working closely with government, local actors, NGOs, and decision-makers to better understand what are the needs on the ground.