HUMAC focuses on private‐sector humanitarian initiatives and partnerships that go beyond donations or transactions, and that aim at the co‐creation of innovative solutions instead.
We leverage insights from research on cross‐sector collaboration to study the organizational and ethical challenges that arise from direct private‐sector engagement in humanitarian action and how these may be addressed.
At HUMAC we focus on business-humanitarian partnerships that go beyond donations. In such partnerships, firms are often heralded for contributing resources and capabilities not otherwise accessible to humanitarian organizations. Yet business‐humanitarian collaborations can be complex to navigate as organizational structures and definitions of success may not always be aligned.
In terms of the organizations involved in collaboration, we research how to achieve alignment between collaborating organizations to construct synergies and enable internal value creation.
Considering the societal effects of the partnership, we research how to realize societal value creation, i.e. to make a positive, significant impact on beneficiaries
Humanitarian work is guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Yet when firms engage in humanitarian action, adherence to these principles is not guaranteed: Firms may not be aware of these principles or be unable or unwilling to uphold them when these principles conflict with commercial interests.
Conversely, there exists an inherent risk that companies use cross‐sector collaborations to promote their own interests at the expense of social impact. Specifically, their involvement in social value creation allows businesses to form relations with social and political actors, which may enable them to shape social systems in ways that advance their interests.
Aiming to further knowledge on how to prevent, handle, or resolve such ethical tensions, HUMAC researches how to ensure principled humanitarian action and how to work with local contexts.
While the private sector displays interest in contributing to humanitarian initiatives, such engagement is conditional on the extent to which firms are able to realize measurable benefits. A complication is that firms report difficulties demonstrating the value of humanitarian engagements, making such initiatives susceptible to internal scrutiny and critique. This raises concern about the longer‐term sustainability of humanitarian operations that depend on private‐sector support.
Extant work recognizes that, to be sustained, collaborations need to gain support internally and externally. Internally, collaborations need to cater to or at least not interfere with organizations’ own interests. Externally, business‐humanitarian collaboration can gain legitimacy when it is perceived as creating value for humanitarian actors and adheres to humanitarian principles.
While literature on cross‐sector collaboration enables a better understanding of these challenges, it is less conclusive as to how such challenges unfold chronologically, how they interact and produce tensions, and how they may best be addressed.
To fill these gaps in knowledge, HUMAC researches how to sustain support for collaboration within involved organizations and how to legitimate collaboration as effective and principled humanitarian action