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Scandinavian businesses respond with innovation and effort to humanitarian needs

Gwi-Yeop Son, Director of Corporate Programmes for OCHA Ericsson Technology for Good

This week I had the pleasure to co-host the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) Scandinavian Business Consultation on behalf of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a long time Ericsson partner, as you can see in this video from last year.

The WHS seems so far away – 2016. And there are some 20 regional business consultations ongoing. I thought for sure this wouldn’t be an easy or particularly exciting event, but given our 15-year history with disaster response, I, never the less, felt obliged to get engaged.

World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) Scandinavian Business Consultation 17016201357_2e8206d3e8_zDSC_0011How wrong I was! First, the Swedish turnout was fabulous, and the participants were fabulously engaged. We had the big companies like Ericsson, Volvo and Saab there, but also small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with incredible innovations, like Solvatten (clean and warm water) and Bright (solar lamps with phone chargers) and PeePoo (yes, like it sounds, biodegradable bags for human feces that eventually turn into fertilizer….), as well as the IKEA Foundation’s social enterprise BetterShelter. The Scandinavian governments (Sweden, Norway, and Finland) were also represented, as were UNHCR, the World Food Programme and other NGOs. So a truly multi-stakeholder dialogue was achieved.

UN-OCHA and Ericsson Humanitarian ResponseAnd that was the point, really. We kicked off with some remarks from Gwi-Yeop Son, Director of Corporate Programmes for OCHA , who explained the background and motivation behind the gathering. They have quite an innovative approach, actually, and it is outside the normal intergovernmental process, so that they can really gain the multi-stakeholder perspectives. The two figures that stuck in my mind were: 1) that every dollar invested in preparedness saves 7 dollars in response; and 2) that OCHA estimates some USD 12.9 billion in humanitarian needs (and this estimate is before taking into account Iraq). Given this backdrop, the need for private sector engagement is very strong.

There was no shortage of private sector solutions discussed. From the Ericsson side, we have Ericsson Response, our employee volunteer program, and our basic non-philanthropic approach. But making solutions a reality is often difficult to achieve. Some of the main private sector challenges included issues like UN procurement and how to allow for innovation; the need for proven technologies that can scale; and how people everywhere are becoming the first responders of the future. And how to have users in focus? This raises a larger, more existential question – who is the humanitarian community of the future? Does it include both providers and recipients?

One thing is clear. Even if the WHS in not until 2016, we need to rally the forces in our region and see what bold commitments we can make. Scandinavia has always been at the forefront of UN support, with Nordic governments being some of the most generous in the world. Imagine if we could couple or harness this with some of the innovations and creativity that the Nordic companies can offer and assist more actively in humanitarian response? What an impact we could have. After all, all our futures are at stake.

Written by Elaine Weidman-Grunewald

Elaine Weidman-Grunewald is Chief Sustainability and Public Affairs Officer at Ericsson. She joined the company in 1998, and she is responsible for a number of public-private partnerships that explore the use of Ericsson’s core technology to solve some of the world’s most compelling challenges and help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. She is a leading advocate of Technology for Good and represents Ericsson in a number of external fora including the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and the United Nations Global Compact.