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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds RANDOLPH C.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds KENT: The role of the private sector in humanitarian crises has always been there in one way or another. The sector has always needed to rent a vehicle, to hire an airplane, and to try and locate food sources, et cetera. So the private sector’s involvement in a commercial sense has been there. You know, I do recall an incident that took place in Sierra Leone when a very large multi-national company saw that there was a real opportunity to help local people in a very large city deal with what was going to be a very serious health crisis.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 seconds And what that company did was to provide local people in slum areas prone, if you like, to a potential serious epidemic– which could have been a pandemic– with lavatories. Because what was happening is that women, as well as men, used to relieve themselves outside their houses in confined areas that made all of them vulnerable and intensified the health problem. So by providing these portable lavatories, the company was actually beginning to make at the same time a kind of profit in three ways. The first was that they charged about $1 a month for the lavatory, and that was a kind of profit in and of itself.

Skip to 2 minutes and 12 seconds The second way, slightly more unusual, was that the faeces– the excrement– that was collected in these portable lavatories was then taken to a brewery where because of the intense heat that these faeces generated lead that company to also benefit from payment by the brewery for the excrement it was collecting. And the third way was this company also manufactured and sold soap. So as it now had a customer base when it came to renting lavatories, it now had another base and that was in terms of selling soap to those people who now could wash and recognise that their cleanliness and health could actually be done inside their houses and not outside.

Skip to 3 minutes and 14 seconds So those are three ways that you might say an epidemic was prevented and that a private sector company was involved. But I think that very large company also triggers another set of issues which one might bear in mind. And that comes from Somalia. And what I think was very important is to understand the role that the Somali traders and the Somali transporters had in providing us with a basis for getting to areas– providing assistance in areas– where it was very difficult for us to go. And I think that is also important. But there’s another example that perhaps one also could take from Somalia.

Skip to 3 minutes and 59 seconds The Somalis– without a government at all– nevertheless had, 10 years ago, already developed one of the best mobile communications systems in that part of Africa. And what was very interesting is the way these mobile communications systems were able to contact the UN, in this case, and other non-governmental organisations to identify crisis areas and to seek assistance when otherwise, without that mobile connection, people would not have been assisted. No one would have ever known. So that too– that Somali mobile telephone company– became a very important actor for dealing with the people of Somalia. I think we have to start considering the possibility of what might be described as a new humanitarian paradigm.

Skip to 5 minutes and 2 seconds Traditionally, the humanitarian sector has assumed that there is a need for charity, for the strong to help the weak. What has always been missing is that two-way involvement– that by helping you, you can in turn help me. It is not merely an issue of self-interest but mutual self-interest. And here, I think, we’re going to see a paradigmatic shift. By that I mean that the underlying assumptions that have driven humanitarianism to date, I think will change. And we’ll all recognise increasingly that your interests could be mine and mine could be yours. And that’s why we have to interact– when you’re in crises and I’m not or vice versa, when I have to face a crises and you do not.

Skip to 6 minutes and 8 seconds Mutual self-interest is the new humanitarian paradigm.

The role of the private sector in humanitarianism

How has the role of the private sector in humanitarian crises changed over time?

Here, Randolph Kent explores the involvement of the private sector in humanitarian interventions, using examples from Somalia and Sierra Leone to describe how large private companies have intervened to protect communities from potential crises.

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This video is from the free online course:

Health in Humanitarian Crises

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine