World Humanitarian Day: Celebrating #RealLifeHeroes at CBi
World Humanitarian Day (WHD) takes place on 19 August every year. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly formalized the day in memory of a bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq, that took place in 2003 and which killed 22 people including several UN employees.
Designated to commemorate humanitarian workers killed and injured in the course of their work, it honours all aid workers who provide life-saving support and protection to the women, men and children most in need, despite the odds. This year, WHD will pay a special tribute to health workers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHD is a global campaign that celebrates humanitarians – a “thank you” to the people who have committed their lives to helping others. This year’s theme is “Real Life Heroes”, building on our fascination for superheroes and cape-wearing vigilantes, and recognizing that in the real-world heroes exist, albeit armed with passion and perseverance rather than superpowers.
The Connecting Business initiative (CBi) wanted to mark the occasion and celebrate some of its “Real Life Heroes”: CBi private sector Member Networks who have gone above and beyond in responding to disasters.
This year, WHD comes as the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 29 July, it had killed 661,000 people and infected 16.7 million, with a sharp rise in caseloads in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean over recent months. Our real-life heroes are overcoming unprecedented access hurdles to assist people in humanitarian crises.
At CBi, we wanted to highlight some of the insights shared by Member Networks around the importance of collective private sector action for disaster risk reduction, response, and recovery – in particular in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rene "Butch" Meily, President of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), says:
“The pandemic is an extraordinary test of our network's capacity to respond. We raised $32 million to feed the jobless and the poor; $2 million to provide protective gear for health care workers and ventilators for hospitals; and are raising another $2 million to assist the government improve its testing capabilities and ensure coordination between the Department of Health and private and public hospitals. The length of the crisis is a challenge, but the Philippines’ private sector has led the way in helping the government and the people. We are doing our best to prepare to respond to a second threat such as an earthquake, typhoon or volcanic eruption in the midst of the COVID-19 menace.
What keeps us going is the knowledge that we are helping enormous numbers of people all over the country and the belief that we are doing our best to improve their lives. This is a better country and a better world because PDRF exists.”
This complements the perspective of Glen Craig, Chair of the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC):
“The private sector in Vanuatu has long been at the forefront of humanitarian responses when disasters occur. They are present before, during and after any natural disaster – and importantly, as a small island developing nation, they are part of a larger family and community.
Inspiration can come from many places, but for me it comes from the possibility of creating a permanent change for good. I do feel that satisfaction of being part of an organisation that is engaged in achieving something not only sustainable, but also deeply meaningful in our communities.”
As highlighted by Isabelle Salabert, President of the Madagascar Private Sector Humanitarian Platform (PHSP):
“The COVID19 pandemic is an extraordinary situation that we were not prepared for. In Madagascar, the homeless are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. The PSHP decided to participate in recovery and sustainable development by helping 300 vulnerable homeless in the Urban Commune of Antananarivo by gathering them in a center that provides a healthy and secure living environment while meeting their basic needs such as accommodation, food and medical care. It also gives children access to education and adults access to professional training, administrative and social support.”
Firzan Hashim, Country Director, Asia Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management Sri Lanka (A-PAD SL) adds:
“The coronavirus outbreak was an eye-opener which brought to light the increased necessity to act collectively in combating a global pandemic. In responding to this, Government-led wider collaboration is vital and in reaching out to communities and saving businesses amidst intersecting disasters, thinking out of the box with the outcome of innovative yet practical solutions is of utmost significance.
The private sector is the lifeline of any economy. Businesses are resilient only if communities are resilient to disasters. In Sri Lanka, the private sector can reach the people at times of crises with its vast infrastructure and supply chain. To ensure that we “leave no one behind”, the private sector as the third essential sector is vital for Humanitarian Work.”
While these networks are led by visionary leaders and CBi #RealLifeHeroes, their reflections shared above highlight the importance of collaboration. The lessons learned are on-going and ever-evolving, but tend to emphasize the importance of working together and learning from each other to rebuild better, of integrating resilience into every system so that communities can grow stronger and business continuity can continue as the backbone to the economy.