Davos delegates focus on solutions to global humanitarian problems

The World Economic Forum wants to help investors to find the right entry point to aid humanitarian crises

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The stereotypical criticism of Davos – and those who attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum – is that attendees are out-of-touch elites.

No doubt, among the 3,000 participants, there are those who live up to that reputation. And yet there are also dozens of meetings taking place this week to tackle some of the most difficult humanitarian challenges facing those who are most vulnerable. Beyond talking shop, alliances are being developed that will have lasting effect. On Wednesday, the Forum launched a Humanitarian Investing Initiative with the World Bank and ICRC, to bring sustainable investment into the humanitarian space.

This initiative was born out of a series of meetings at previous meetings in Davos. The Syrian refugee crisis had concerned European and business leaders searching for answers to a problem that seemed insurmountable.


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Andrej Kirn, lead for the humanitarian agenda at the World Economic Forum said that “bringing together two different agendas, humanitarian work and sustainable financing” is somewhat new. And it is what participants at the World Economic Forum from multinational businesses to non-profit organisation were looking for. In a change from previous years, long-term investment as a solution to humanitarian crisis is firmly on the Davos agenda.

President of the World Economic Forum Borge Brende, chief executive of the World Bank, Kristalina Georgieva, and Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, chaired a meeting to launch the Humanitarian Investing Initiative that will have several meetings this year with large private sector companies. Mr Kirn said that the idea is to “bring in players that were not involved in the humanitarian space before”.

Meetings over the past few days focused on social impact investing have ranged from working on women’s public health programmes to educating students in long-term refugee camps – but through investment, not just philanthropy. Humanitarian initiatives through investing present a new approach that requires actors from the humanitarian, investing and political fields. The Development Impact Bond is one example, where KOIS, an international impact finance firm, is bringing together donors and investors for projects dedicated to refugees. The idea behind the bond is to help host communities with refugees and its pilot will focus on Syrian refugees. While the concept is popular, it requires a leap of faith.

At a breakfast attended by investors and foundations supporting impact investing, Beatrice Delperdange said: “Infrastructure investing is easy, but something intangible like a female refugee who has never worked in her life but wants to improve her life is not investable.” But, she said, “you have to invest in that woman, in order to make her investable”. And that investment is everything from helping train women to giving them seed funding.

Another initiative launched at Davos on Tuesday was the Data Science for Social Impact collaborative, an initiative between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mastercard Centre for Inclusive Growth to support non-profit and civic organisations, as well as government entities with technological tools to understand data and utilise it better to deliver results.

Rather than short-term funding cycles for humanitarian appeals being the only option, long-term investing is what Mr Krin believes can change the dynamic in dealing with long-term humanitarian crises. He said that “previously investors didn’t know where to start from” in tackling the humanitarian agenda. The World Economic Forum wants to help investors find the right entry point.