(The Humanitarian Social Network)
It was hard to know where to put this question, but ultimately I think it becomes an issue of humanitarian accountability and transparency: what is the appropriate role (or roles) of the for-profit sector in the aid world?
I gravitate towards towards a "less" role. I think people, organizations, etc. should have to choose whether they're going to be profitarian or humanitarian. Not that business people can't be ethical and "good" and all of that. And not that humanitarians never make business sense. But I tend to see the two worlds of for-profit and humanitarian as just that: two distinct worlds.
By the same token, I do realize that the universe is evolving with or without me.
Articles like this one by Alex Goldmark in GOOD:Should Fighting Hunger Be a Franchise Business? (see my blog response here), among many, many others let us in on the reality that fewer and fewer people out there share my opinion.
So, let's hear from you:
What do you think the appropriate role(s) of the for-profit sector are or should be in "aid"? Should for-profits like TOMS or Nutriset or Proctor & Gamble be part and parcel? Can they directly implement and also support the aid sector? (And even if they had the capacity, wouldn't doing so be a conflict of interest?) What about Philip Morris? Or Diageo? As humanitarians, where should we draw the lines when engaging the for-profit world? And how do we articulate those lines to industry non-insiders in ways that make sense?
What do you think?
I think the obvious answer is: it depends. The role of for-profits should be whatever works best for the people aid is trying to support -- which, of course, is no different from not-for-profits. In other words: the role of for-profits should be totally based on utilitarian considerations; I don't see any fundamental or ethical issues here.
And yes, that means that their role will differ from setting to setting -- just like the not-for-profit sector's should.
"Totally based on utilitarian considerations" doesn't quite do it for me.
I mean, we have a relatively easy time saying that uniformed, armed military personnel shouldn't deliver relief aid, we have an easy time turning down defense department funding for development work (and lambasting tho poor sod NGOs who do accept it)... As a community of practice, we seem to be able to draw that line fairly easily as a matter of principle, despite the objective reality that in many ways military organizations are ideally suited for humanitarian work from a strictly utilitarian perspective.
And I think we're right to do so. We have to consider the original purpose of The Military, and that has to color our stance on how we engage with The Military in relief and development settings. I don't see how we can not apply the same kinds of analyses to corporate donors/partners/actors.
"As a community of practice, we seem to be able to draw that line fairly easily as a matter of principle, despite the objective reality that in many ways military organizations are ideally suited for humanitarian work from a strictly utilitarian perspective."
I would disagree: the reasons to draw that line are utilitarian too -- just long-term utilitarian: the negative consequences for the people we are trying to serve clearly and materially outweigh the short-term gains. I am very much against uniformed, military 'humanitarians', but that is not in any way a principled stance; I would have no issues at all with it if at any time the military could show that their 'humanitarian' work would benefit in the long term the target populations. I think that will never happen, but stranger things have occurred.
I think its important to consider the role of the "for profit" sector in aid, but also their role in development.
The for profit world has a potentially huge impact on development - probably much more than aid, since a well functioning private sector is the main driver of economic growth, jobs, and things people need/want which improve their health and quality of life. Lots of things needed in aid also only come from the private sector (e.g. vaccines, computers, land rovers, plumpy'nut :-)
So obviously we need the private sector in development and even aid. The question gets a bit more tricky when we lok at "partnerships" or "joint projects" with the private sector. Many private sector organizations do want to contribute more than having you buy their products or services. This could be part of their "social" mission to "give back" but also because its good business by helping them improve their image and sell more stuff. I'd agree with Michael that the decision on whether or not this makes sense should be seen from a utilitarian basis by those from the aid world doing the partnering.
I don't think we should be too doe-eyed about the motives of corporates - their interest will undoubtedly be mostly to advance their own agenda, but we need to look at whether their interests ally with ours and mostly with those of the beneficiaries and then make a choice about whether to partner with them or not. This needs a hard headed look at the circumstances and fierce negotiation rather than either a warm embrace or a turned back.