Interview with Butch Meily

Business partners with UN agencies, government to address crises in the Philippines

The Philippines “is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world,” Butch Meily, head of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, said. “We have typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.” In 2017, the country also faces violent conflict between government forces and ISIS-inspired armed groups in Marawi, capital of the Muslim portion of Mindanao.

As fighting has escalated, 360,000 people have been displaced from Marawi. At least 45 civilians have been killed and thousands of others are in urgent need of food, health care, shelter, water, sanitation, and hygiene.

The Philippines Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) was an early partner in the Connecting Business initiative (CBi), launched by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016

In its first year, CBi supported private sector-led networks in 13 locations: Côte d’Ivoire, Fiji, Haiti, Kenya/East Africa, Madagascar, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pacific, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Vanuatu. Eight of those networks mobilized in response to emergencies in the last year.

The networks aim to foster better coordination, improved preparedness, and more effective, efficient crisis response by leveraging private-sector businesses—which account for 90 percent of jobs in the world and play vital roles in communities. CBi is on track to expand to 40 countries by 2020.

Responding to a man-made crisis this year was a new challenge, Meily said, but added, “I felt it was important that if you are a disaster management organization you can get involved in natural emergencies and man-made ones.”

“We sent in a 60-man medical team initially to treat the needs of the evacuees,” he said. Then, based on the request of the mayor of the affected city, PDRF partnered with environmental and urban planners to sketch out plans for the new city “that we hope will rise from the ashes of this conflict—that’s one way business is going to help.”

The organization is working to revive commerce and business in the region, helping entrepreneurs establish small shops or necessities fleeing residents had to leave behind, he said. While officials requested the support, locals are traders by nature, Meily said. PDRF may also help the government privatize some essential city services such as water and electricity

Collaboration with CBi

Networks

Knowledge-sharing and innovation across national borders is key. 

The year-old initiative is sharing best practices and facilitating exchanges, under which the Philippines has sent experts to Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Fiji to launch their own private sector networks. Madagascar and others have also sought expertise.

PDRF, UNDP, the QBO Innovation Hub in Manila, and others recently launched a Southeast Asia-wide competition aimed at getting young people to devise new ways of preparing for and responding to disasters—with a first prize of US$10,000.

“CBi facilitated our attendance at a resilience conference in New Orleans,” Meily said, at which his foundation established a partnership with Air BnB’s “open homes program,” allowing earthquake evacuees to quickly find emergency shelter. The contacts established globally also allowed the Philippines to offer medical personnel to help US responders after the recent flooding in Texas after Hurricane Harvey.

In the Philippines, PDRF comprises eight “lifeline clusters,” with 82 member businesses from multiple sectors such as telecommunications, water, power, logistics, search and rescue, health, and infrastructure.

“We recently set up world’s first-ever private sector-run national emergency operations center. We are pretty proud about it because it enables us to track various types of typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or pandemics,” Meily said. “We need the private sector to play a role in disasters. If we can manage to do that, we will be building a better and safer world, not just for ourselves but for our children.”

Emergency Operations Center

Networks

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Rene “Butch” Meily, President, Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation

Butch is President of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), a private sector disaster management organization that includes many of the major business groups in the country.  Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT), his parent company, received the 2016 Prince of Wales Business in Community UPS International Disaster Relief Prize for its work in mobilizing PDRF during Super Typhoon Haiyan. PDRF currently operates the world’s only national private sector Emergency Operations Center. Butch is also president of IdeaSpace Foundation, a technology accelerator for early stage startup companies.  He heads QBO Innovation Hub, a public private partnership launched to mentor startups. He is concurrently president of Pacific Global One, a firm formed from PLDT’s Aviation Group.  Previously, Butch was First Vice President and Special Assistant to the chairman of PLDT and president of PLDT Smart Foundation.  Prior to joining PLDT, he served as Vice President, Communications for TLC Beatrice International, a food company in New York and Paris.  He has worked with several New York public relations firms and a financial startup. 

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This interview was conducted by Sarah Jackson-Han, UNDP Communications, Partnerships, & Policy Adviser, UNDP Washington Representation Office