I was recently interviewed for an article about me and my work with Alliance4Impact and Impact17. I am often asked to explain what I do and this piece summarises it very well. Feel free to share it within your circles if you have connections who may find it interesting or useful…  

Humanitarian action requires just that: action.

In many companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and in the United Nations, there is acknowledgement at senior levels that they should get involved in collaborative projects to help communities in crisis, but the “how” can be too complex to navigate without the right expert knowledge and facilitation to guide them.

Andy Andrea, Executive Director of Alliance4Impact, works to support these companies and organisations towards common goals with humanitarian impact and brings them together with UN Agencies on various projects for the benefit of struggling communities worldwide.

With more than 25 years’ experience of collaboration in humanitarian and development related fields, Andy is an advocate for improved humanitarian emergency preparedness and response through cross-sector collaboration. He has a fundamental belief in the ownership of solutions by people directly affected and the power of collective action for mutual benefit.

Here he talks about his work and how he has been leading the engagement of the private sector in emergency humanitarian action the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What does Alliance4Impact do and why is it important?  

Alliance4Impact puts the ownership of people’s futures back into their hands. We facilitate collaboration between humanitarian organisations, private companies and governments to take action and build more resilient societies that can look after themselves.

There is a lot of great work done by international humanitarian organisations such as UNICEF, World Food Programme, Oxfam, Save the Children etc, but the fact they have to exist reflects the failure of society to look after itself. My role and my focus are to support people to achieve societal objectives of common interest, and to localize that as much as possible – empowering people at a local level to become communities that can support themselves.

For example, in Europe or North America it is extremely rare for countries to request international humanitarian aid when there is a crisis because the societies are so resilient. They already work across sectors to prepare for and respond to crises, and to rebuild in a sustainable way afterwards. However, international assistance is often necessary in poorer countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The only way we can achieve progress is through collaboration. There have been calls for collaboration of this kind from within the United Nations, the European Union and senior levels within individual governments and private companies, but little evidence of action.

There are many reasons that these projects often do not reach the ‘action’ stage. Ad hoc leadership and poor project management play a part, as do out-dated and inefficient approaches, and simply a lack of commitment because of a lack of understanding of the mutual benefits. Bilateral collaborations are normally dominated by one of the partners, which is not effective. When there are more than two parties it becomes even more complicated to manage. That is why it is useful to have an independent facilitator, and that’s where A4I comes in.

My job is to facilitate that process. It’s essential to move intentions from the “should” stage to actually doing something and through to completion. If it was being done within an organisation you might call it project management. But when it involves a number of different players it includes shuttle diplomacy, facilitation and mediation as well. You need an independent facilitator to manage all the necessary stakeholders involved and keep things moving in the right direction.

What’s your background and how did you come to be doing this kind of work?

In some respects, I have been doing this from the very beginning of my career. In the early 1990s I worked in a parliamentary consultancy lobbying the British government and EU on behalf of groups of companies. What I learned during that time formed the foundations of my career and I am proud to now be using that knowledge as a force for good.

From then up until today, I have been involved in a huge number of projects all centred around communication and facilitation in the areas of humanitarian action and CSR. Whilst working for ActionAid, I brought in a communications strategy using email for the first time and launched the aid & development sector’s first internet based collaborative communications platform in 1993.

After that I created new partnerships to design and launch ReliefWeb, the international humanitarian response system’s first ever web-based information management tool, and jointly launched the Geneva Web Group. I also became part of the team that launched what has become the world’s leading independent armed conflict mediation organisation, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue based in Geneva, where I was Director of Communications for 12 years.

I was Head of Global Governance and Head of Government and Public Affairs for three years at the World Economic Forum and was responsible for IGWELs, the highest-level multi-sector meetings in Davos.

At the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, I led the Private Sector Section and was responsible for the unprecedented involvement of the private sector in the World Humanitarian Summit, its contribution to the Agenda for Humanity, and for launching the Connecting Business initiative, a global multi stakeholder collaboration to build local resilience and respond to humanitarian crises.

To better understand the rational of companies I launched “The Business Case: A study of private sector engagement in humanitarian action” with the help of companies such as Philanthropy Advisors and Vantage Partners, and for “Combining capabilities: How public private partnerships are making a difference in humanitarian action” in collaboration with DP DHL.

As well as being Executive Director of Alliance4Impact, I am also Co-Founder and Executive Director of Impact17.Net, Board Member of the Martin Ennals Foundation, and Special Advisor to the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation and to the new CERN social enterprise called GluoNNet.

Fast forward to now. What does your day-to-day look like? 

It’s a lot of networking, brokering relationships, facilitating work and projects, drip-feeding key messages, and advocating for this kind of approach.

On a daily basis, I am enabling companies and international organisations to look at people’s needs in humanitarian crisis situations and work out a plan of action to help. These situations usually involve the same kinds of basic needs: food, shelter, protection, water, sanitation, etc. The question I ask is “How can these people be helped to look after themselves, prepare for these situations in advance, so that crises are not continually repeated… and why is that important to you?”

The same problems often keep coming up again. Crises tend to happen in similar areas and regions. I look to the future and think how can we work together to help this vulnerable community prepare for the next time, to ensure they are ready and so it doesn’t hit them so badly? Is there a way we can avoid them having to call for international assistance again and again?

I am a consultant in traditional terms, but I am also a project manager. People come to me and ask for my help when they know what I do and have a situation they need my support to address. Other times I come up with projects, pitch those projects, and get others involved in them.

I operate at the local level but mainly at a global level. There are some projects that by their nature, mean I never meet the people who are affected by and involved in a crisis because I am trying to affect systemic transformation at a higher level that pushes in that direction. In such projects, my role is to change the behaviour of international organisations and multinational companies, so that they are helping people at a local level as a consequence of making changes several steps further along the chain.

Could you give an example of some of this work?

In 2018 I convinced several UN Agencies and large charities to collaborate in a project called “Leave No-one Behind: Partnering For Impact” in the Sustainable Impact Hub in Davos. For this project, we encouraged greater engagement with companies in Davos to reach the most impoverished, excluded, disadvantaged people and those at risk of violence and discrimination and to try to ensure they can make their voices heard. I created, launched, managed, fundraised for and coordinated this initiative, and brought in 28 multinational companies in 2019 to collaborate and help the most vulnerable people in a way that helped those people look after themselves. All the organisations involved were so pleased with the outcome that they asked me to do the same again.

We will be re-launching the Sustainable Impact Hub in Davos during the World Economic Forum 2020 Annual Meeting. World Economic Forum participants and the general public are invited to drop in to discuss, learn about and advance partnerships with organizations working together. Visitors can also explore interactive exhibitions and virtual reality experiences, informative videos, and live broadcast discussions on the most pressing issues for collaboration.

I’m also proud to have supported the creation of what could be a massive boost to global humanitarian action. I had formed the idea of an independent private sector owned alliance of multinational companies that could bring their experiences and vast resources to bear on humanitarian challenges. In 2019, at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, and in front of the heads of 5 of the largest operational UN Agencies, they committed to delivering practical support to the United Nations in its efforts to help the most vulnerable people affected by humanitarian crises. The group agreed to launch an Alliance, facilitated by the Secretary General’s Humanitarian Envoy, that would begin to collaborate immediately, and to bring in other partners as needed to address priority humanitarian challenges.

What’s next for you? What are your plans in 2019?

My goal remains to support NGOs and companies move from talking about the fact that they ‘should’ collaborate to helping them actually collaborate and to achieving what they set out to. There is a mutual benefit for them in doing so, but they sometimes need help to find that rationale and to focus their activities on something useful. That’s where I come in, and what I do is vital for the sustainability of these projects.

Interventions to help vulnerable people and any collaboration must deliver something to all those that are involved, or else it’s impact is weak and unsustainable. In some cases, it may mean a direct and immediate return on investment and in other cases it might mean the protection of infrastructure or supply chains. It may even be a longer-term objective, such as an investment in the opening up of new markets. The point is it must be sustainable.

As well as acting as a consultant by responding to requests and pushing projects, I am also developing a framework that supports collaboration to be available as an off-the-shelf model. This is a big project that will help others to collaborate more effectively on humanitarian action by identifying key milestones.

For instance, let’s say we have a group who wish to support people in Indonesia to be able to provide their own care for emergency situations in a crisis. To do this, they need to build mobile health clinics in Indonesia so they can be staffed, equipped and ready to be deployed all over the country. We would need to identify who the stakeholders are and bring them together, and then help them get to a point where mobile health clinics are built and serviced in Jakarta rather than being shipped in, and so that it works as an investment in the local economy.

Along that process, you would have interventions. As part of a facilitation framework I would provide digital tools, training, advisory services, etc for the stakeholders involved. My co-founders and I call this company Impact17. Number 17 of the SDGs is about partnerships, hence the name of the company. That’s a project I’ll be working on in 2019 alongside many others!

How can people learn more about you and get in touch?

The best place to get in touch and read the latest updates from me is via my LinkedIn Profile. I am also available on email at andy.andrea@alliance4impact.com. I would be particularly interested to hear from any companies or organisations that want to explore how humanitarian action might be directly beneficial to them, and who might wish to get involved in one of these projects in the future.

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