Private sector engagement in internal displacement – recommendations for policy makers

Tiina Mylly • 30 April 2021

Heightened attention and action are needed to address the global internal displacement crisis. As the private sector can play an indispensable role in supporting forcibly displaced people, it is important to unpack how their contributions can be leveraged and maximized. Following consultations with the CBi Member Networks, here are some ideas how the Connecting Business initiative encourages policy makers to approach private sector engagement. 

First, policy makers should not overlook the role of the local private sector. It is these businesses – often micro, small and medium in size – who are among the first responders when a shock forces people to flee their homes. In 2020, in addition to fighting COVID-19, 9 CBi Member Networks responded to a total of 19 crises. These ranged from Tropical Cyclone Harold in Vanuatu to a drought in Madagascar, flooding in Mexico and volcanic eruption in the Philippines. Operating in the societies affected, the incentives of local businesses to support are closely aligned with the broader efforts to provide life-saving assistance and help societies recover.  

Second, the private sector should have a seat at relevant coordination structures led by governments, humanitarian and development organizations. This will ensure the private sector receives timely information about priorities and needs, has the opportunity to share updates on private sector engagement and can align with the broader efforts to prevent and respond to internal displacement. 

Third, a network structure can provide an effective entry point for decision makers to engage with the private sector. CBi Member Networks, Global Compact Local Networks, Chambers of Commerce and similar platforms can help the private sector understand the frameworks for internal displacement, navigate the mandates of responsible stakeholders, reduce duplication and align their contributions with others to maximize their collective positive impact on vulnerable populations. In the more challenging, politically sensitive operating environments, collective action also has the potential to reduce the risks of engagement (perceived or actual) and hence increase private sector engagement, including in addressing internal displacement. 

Fourth, existing examples of private sector engagement in different displacement contexts provide valuable insights and can serve as inspiration – to governments, the UN and businesses alike. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, these examples could be adapted to fit the specifics of internal displacement in other countries. 

Fifth – and last – the private sector should not be treated as a homogenous group nor should their actions be seen as uniform and unchanging. Scaling up private sector engagement in internal displacement will require decision-makers to acknowledge and build on the many reasons and potential ways for businesses to support. Varying from philanthropic to core-business, no one contribution is necessarily better than another. This means expanding beyond the traditional methods of addressing the topic and accepting that in some instances private sector engagement could for example imply supporting the continuity of IDP-owned businesses or providing access to finance. 

The UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement will submit its final report to the UN Secretary-General in September. In addition to having submitted recommendations along the lines of the above with them, we also provided an opportunity for the Panel members to hear first-hand from one of the CBi Member Networks, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation. We are well past the question of whether the private sector has a role in internal displacement, but we still need to ensure their contributions are sufficiently and correctly recognized in policy documents and action plans. There is time for more private sector organizations to share their insights and experiences also with the High-Level Panel and help us create a roadmap for the future. We strongly encourage everyone to contribute. 

Photo credit: UNOCHA/Giles Clarke