How Can Business Fight Ebola?


(Ruth Mhlanga) #21

However, private sector involvement is not always clear cut and because businesses exist to turn a profit, their interventions are often viewed with some distrust as to their true purpose. This is particularly so for companies with a specific business interest or stake in the crisis, for example pharmaceutical and medical supply companies during the Ebola crisis. Here there is a potential conflict of interest, in order to ensure that there is neutrality and impartiality and that humanitarian relief is provided based solely on needs requires scrupulous accountability and transparency.

The basis of humanitarian intervention should always be the needs of people. OCHA/WEF have laid out principles which are meant to serve as a guide to the private sector and the humanitarian community, with an emphasis on communicating key humanitarian principles as well as integrating elements of lessons learnt from previous private sector engagement.

This includes the need for the Private Sector to provide

a) Transparency and accountability concerning their objectives, funding and potential commercial interests;

b) Guarantee that involvement should not be exploitative through excessive profiteering, market establishment or brand positioning;

c) Understanding of/signing up to humanitarian principles – at a minimum sign up to OCHA/WEF principles and be accountable to it.

It important to remember that while gifts in kind like vehicles for transportation are crucial to saving lives during a humanitarian crisis financial contributions are often the fastest way to mobilise resources effectively. There have been times when donations in kind in have been inappropriate and actually slowed down the response.


(David Easton) #22

As with so many things, where local firms are strong and capable they can play a much stronger part in supporting relief efforts - as independent actors and as suppliers to government and NGOs. Where those firms don't exist or the private sector is relatively weak (as it is both Sierra Leone and Liberia) it makes the logistics of the relief effort slower, more complex and more expensive.


David Easton said:

I think it depends a lot on the business.

Clearly local employers (particularly those operating in rural areas) have a strong role to play in educating and protecting their staff and the communities in which they operate. For instance, one of our portfolio companies, Miro, which operates in rural Sierra Leone was active in putting in doing house-to-house training on how to reduce transmission and also paid for radio spots on local radio carrying public health information. This is just part of their responsibility as a major employer in their local community.

Some other businesses we know were also key service providers to the relief effort - whether that is local logistics and construction companies who were able to mobilise faster than the government in many circumstances to work with NGOs in building response centres. Or someone like Splash Mobile Money who played a role in ensuring that health extension workers were able to receive their salary across the country.


(Rodger Chali) #23



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Let's start with our first question:

Q1: How can business best contribute to tackling public health crisis’ like ebola?

Education will be key in the fight against Ebola.Therefore investments in the tools that enhance education will be critical in the the long run. Solar powered lighting for instance can help thousands to study after hours.


(Jo-Ann Pohl) #24

The Bank’s experience in dealing with the SARS outbreak in 2003 and flu pandemic in 2009 was invaluable in terms learnings on business continuity and support in a crisis. Two things that stand our are the power of a collective effort and knowlege ...

  • Join Forces! There is strength in numbers
  • Create awareness! Empower the people impacted

(Kathryn Taetzsch) #25

It is easier to set up treatment centres than to have affected people seeking help - shifting mindsets takes time - also, for the reverse situation - therefore working with and through key "champions" in communities is critical. World Vision has been working with communities, government ministries, development organisations to improve health, education, food security and protection for children in Sierra Leone for 20 years. During the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and with support of partners including businesses, we were able to reach 1.56 Mio people with life-saving interventions.

Changing perceptions and raising awareness that translates into improved prevention practises was and is one core element of our work. Through a model called "Channels of Hope" we worked with community leaders, including faith leaders to promote messaging that was addressing fears and rumors, and had been the cause of stigmatization for months. We had used this methodology in Southern Africa at the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and we see that only by working with and through the community base, we can be effectively bringing the accurate information to people, including the international public.


(Andy Wright) #26

I completely agree, Ruth. The response has to meet the needs of the situation – and the needs of people in the situation. That’s why, in the case of a crisis, we normally work with NGO partners on the ground who can identify these immediate needs and inform our response. For example, we partnered with Save the Children and were able to respond to a request for funds to support their healthcare centres in the countries affected by Ebola.


Ruth Mhlanga said:

However, private sector involvement is not always clear cut and because businesses exist to turn a profit, their interventions are often viewed with some distrust as to their true purpose. This is particularly so for companies with a specific business interest or stake in the crisis, for example pharmaceutical and medical supply companies during the Ebola crisis. Here there is a potential conflict of interest, in order to ensure that there is neutrality and impartiality and that humanitarian relief is provided based solely on needs requires scrupulous accountability and transparency.

The basis of humanitarian intervention should always be the needs of people. OCHA/WEF have laid out principles which are meant to serve as a guide to the private sector and the humanitarian community, with an emphasis on communicating key humanitarian principles as well as integrating elements of lessons learnt from previous private sector engagement.

This includes the need for the Private Sector to provide

a) Transparency and accountability concerning their objectives, funding and potential commercial interests;

b) Guarantee that involvement should not be exploitative through excessive profiteering, market establishment or brand positioning;

c) Understanding of/signing up to humanitarian principles – at a minimum sign up to OCHA/WEF principles and be accountable to it.

It important to remember that while gifts in kind like vehicles for transportation are crucial to saving lives during a humanitarian crisis financial contributions are often the fastest way to mobilise resources effectively. There have been times when donations in kind in have been inappropriate and actually slowed down the response.


(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #27

Thanks for all the insights so far. Let's move on to question 2:

Q2: What have we learned from the on-going ebola outbreak about how to successfully mobilise a business response, and where are the business innovations happening?


(Jo-Ann Pohl) #28

To build on the point made earlier by David Easton ... Linking up with the public and privates sector is key to matching the right strengths. We have worked with partners, like the CDC and are a member of the Sierra Leone Ebola Private Sector Mobilisation Group (EPSMG), working on optimising Ebola support with local MNCs operating in Sierra Leone (Reviewing logistics support, non EVD community care and screening efforts as well as advocacy locally and internationally around issues such as restricted entry to countries, reduced access via air and sea etc)

Also, sharing what we have learned and tested in the form of our business continuity protocols with other corporates and NGOs has helped other in their preparation and ongoing work and enhanced our own business continuity plans and how we can support the broader region ... even all the way to East Africa when the Marburg (a strain of the Ebola virus) was identified.


(David Easton) #29


Penelope - I agree with that. And lots of businesses we know did manage to carry on operating throughout the crisis. Clearly it wasn't easy, but I was positively surprised by the degree of continuity of operations for many companies.

The key thing now is to ensure that investors who were just getting used to the idea of investing in Liberia and Sierra Leone don't abandon the idea of investing altogether. I think that's a key role for friends of both countries in the next phase.


Penelope Anderson said:

Hi everyone -- this is Penny Anderson, Mercy Corps Country Director in Liberia. Glad to be part of this discussion.

How can business best contribute to overcoming health crises like Ebola? By staying in business! During the height of the crisis here in Liberia, we saw a fair amount of investor aversion. Big businesses and small closed up shop. While this was understandable, it also increased the impact of the epidemic on the population, who were suddenly deprived of livelihoods and access to the market.


(Ruth Mhlanga) #30

I think this raises a good point on involving the people impacted. People should be at the heart of the intervention and the communities able to determine their own priorities.


Jo-Ann Pohl The Bank’s experience in dealing with the SARS outbreak in 2003 and flu pandemic in 2009 was invaluable in terms learnings on business continuity and support in a crisis. Two things that stand our are the power of a collective effort and knowlege ...

  • Join Forces! There is strength in numbers
  • Create awareness! Empower the people impacted

(Ruth Mhlanga) #31

Again on Q2 at the heart of this is the ability to liaise with communities and stakeholders using existing communications channels to get the word out. Perhaps this crisis saw business reaching out a bit more to stakeholders they ordinarily would not have


(Kathryn Taetzsch) #32



David Easton said:


Penelope - I agree with that. And lots of businesses we know did manage to carry on operating throughout the crisis. Clearly it wasn't easy, but I was positively surprised by the degree of continuity of operations for many companies.

The key thing now is to ensure that investors who were just getting used to the idea of investing in Liberia and Sierra Leone don't abandon the idea of investing altogether. I think that's a key role for friends of both countries in the next phase.


Penelope Anderson said:

Hi everyone -- this is Penny Anderson, Mercy Corps Country Director in Liberia. Glad to be part of this discussion.

How can business best contribute to overcoming health crises like Ebola? By staying in business! During the height of the crisis here in Liberia, we saw a fair amount of investor aversion. Big businesses and small closed up shop. While this was understandable, it also increased the impact of the epidemic on the population, who were suddenly deprived of livelihoods and access to the market.

Hi Penelope,

absolutely agree!! This is where multinational corporates can support local business by partnering - and humanitarian stakeholders can facilitate this process with communities, international donor partners and coordination support. It is striking that despite all challenges multiple agencies were able to mobilise a number of vaccine trials within shortest time. There was significant private sector commitment, which - if we better prepare all jointly for future disasters and enhance role of local business role in this - would result in more efficiency, effectiveness and impact!


(Jo-Ann Pohl) #33

Being able to operate in a crisis is key, in fact as a Bank this was critical so we partnered with customers and clients to support business continuity. This included simple things, like refreshed banking hours, maintaining staff morale as they pushed to deliver faster turnaround times on client requests including emergency facilities (e.g. trade facilitation payments to import health equipment) to opening bank accounts for aid organisations to pay doctor and nurses and facilitate relief funding, e.g. UN, WHO


David Easton said:


Penelope - I agree with that. And lots of businesses we know did manage to carry on operating throughout the crisis. Clearly it wasn't easy, but I was positively surprised by the degree of continuity of operations for many companies.

The key thing now is to ensure that investors who were just getting used to the idea of investing in Liberia and Sierra Leone don't abandon the idea of investing altogether. I think that's a key role for friends of both countries in the next phase.


Penelope Anderson said:

Hi everyone -- this is Penny Anderson, Mercy Corps Country Director in Liberia. Glad to be part of this discussion.

How can business best contribute to overcoming health crises like Ebola? By staying in business! During the height of the crisis here in Liberia, we saw a fair amount of investor aversion. Big businesses and small closed up shop. While this was understandable, it also increased the impact of the epidemic on the population, who were suddenly deprived of livelihoods and access to the market.


(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #34

It's great to see around 200 people tuned in for this discussion. Please do share your comments and insights!


(Penelope Anderson) #35

David, absolutely agree. A key part of the recovery is re-establishing those business links. Liberia is now officially Ebola-free. If business found opportunity here in 2013, they will find it again in 2015. So how to we move that forward?

David Easton said:


Penelope - I agree with that. And lots of businesses we know did manage to carry on operating throughout the crisis. Clearly it wasn't easy, but I was positively surprised by the degree of continuity of operations for many companies.

The key thing now is to ensure that investors who were just getting used to the idea of investing in Liberia and Sierra Leone don't abandon the idea of investing altogether. I think that's a key role for friends of both countries in the next phase.


Penelope Anderson said:

Hi everyone -- this is Penny Anderson, Mercy Corps Country Director in Liberia. Glad to be part of this discussion.

How can business best contribute to overcoming health crises like Ebola? By staying in business! During the height of the crisis here in Liberia, we saw a fair amount of investor aversion. Big businesses and small closed up shop. While this was understandable, it also increased the impact of the epidemic on the population, who were suddenly deprived of livelihoods and access to the market.


(David Easton) #36

I think for truly effective mobilisation, it was important for there to be a clear leadership role from government and the primary partners - the UN and the "other CDC" (Centre for Disease Control). Then it is important for business (and indeed NGOs) to fall in line behind the direction set by that leadership. It wasn't easy - because government capacity is weak (which is part of the problem in the first place) - but it is critical.



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for all the insights so far. Let's move on to question 2:

Q2: What have we learned from the on-going ebola outbreak about how to successfully mobilise a business response, and where are the business innovations happening?


(Jo-Ann Pohl) #37

Agree Ruth, we have to acknowledge that this is all about people and with just under a 100 new cases in Guinea the issue remains high on the radar and top of mind with families, communities and economies impacted.

Ruth Mhlanga said:

I think this raises a good point on involving the people impacted. People should be at the heart of the intervention and the communities able to determine their own priorities.


Jo-Ann Pohl The Bank’s experience in dealing with the SARS outbreak in 2003 and flu pandemic in 2009 was invaluable in terms learnings on business continuity and support in a crisis. Two things that stand our are the power of a collective effort and knowlege ...

  • Join Forces! There is strength in numbers
  • Create awareness! Empower the people impacted

(Andy Wright) #38

The best way to respond is by being there already. If a business has a presence in the country, it can mount a local response. For example, we have a business in the affected countries which reinvests some of its profits back into training healthcare workers. By investing in the infrastructure in this way, we can - in the longer term - help create a more resilient healthcare system that can respond to outbreaks and mitigate them when they do.



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for all the insights so far. Let's move on to question 2:

Q2: What have we learned from the on-going ebola outbreak about how to successfully mobilise a business response, and where are the business innovations happening?


(Ruth Mhlanga) #39

Yes very much agree with this. The private sector also plays key role in good business practices outside emergencies – decent wages and paying tax. Oxfam’s report showed that wealth of the richest 1 per cent will overtake that of the other 99 per cent of people next year unless the current trend of rising inequality is checked. Right now, big companies can dodge billions in taxes. Meanwhile, the world's poorest countries lose out on funds that could pay for vital services like education and healthcare - crucial in tackling extreme poverty.



Andy Wright said:

The best way to respond is by being there already. If a business has a presence in the country, it can mount a local response. For example, we have a business in the affected countries which reinvests some of its profits back into training healthcare workers. By investing in the infrastructure in this way, we can - in the longer term - help create a more resilient healthcare system that can respond to outbreaks and mitigate them when they do.



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for all the insights so far. Let's move on to question 2:

Q2: What have we learned from the on-going ebola outbreak about how to successfully mobilise a business response, and where are the business innovations happening?


(David Easton) #40

In my previous role, one of the things I did was to help the Liberian government attract FDI. It's a tough job - investors are understandably wary of Liberia as a small country with a difficult history and relatively low levels of infrastructure. Unfortunately ebola also came at a time when we saw a big fall in global commodity prices (e.g. rubber, iron ore) and that hasn't helped for investments in those sectors.

The answers though aren't that different from what they were in 2013:

  • Continued investment in critical infrastructure (roads, ports etc) - which hopefully can be accelerated by use of "post ebola" funds
  • Having a leadership (like they have in Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) who can speak the language of investors, but also challenge them on issues like local content and the training and upskilling of local workers
  • And perhaps most importantly is improving regional integration - for any business, Liberia is a very small market, the Mano River Union is quite-a-small-market but ECOWAS is a huge market. Defining their role within their roles and competitive advantage within the wider ECOWAS picture is going to be critical for Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Investors like CDC also have an important role to play in showing that good business can be done even at a time of crisis. It was why we were pleased to close an investment into Miro Forestry in Sierra Leone in January and to provide capital alongside Standard Chartered to lend to local businesses in Sierra Leone. We have been investing in these markets for decades and we know that with patience and good business practices, there is money to be made.



Penelope Anderson said:

David, absolutely agree. A key part of the recovery is re-establishing those business links. Liberia is now officially Ebola-free. If business found opportunity here in 2013, they will find it again in 2015. So how to we move that forward?

David Easton said:


Penelope - I agree with that. And lots of businesses we know did manage to carry on operating throughout the crisis. Clearly it wasn't easy, but I was positively surprised by the degree of continuity of operations for many companies.

The key thing now is to ensure that investors who were just getting used to the idea of investing in Liberia and Sierra Leone don't abandon the idea of investing altogether. I think that's a key role for friends of both countries in the next phase.


Penelope Anderson said:

Hi everyone -- this is Penny Anderson, Mercy Corps Country Director in Liberia. Glad to be part of this discussion.

How can business best contribute to overcoming health crises like Ebola? By staying in business! During the height of the crisis here in Liberia, we saw a fair amount of investor aversion. Big businesses and small closed up shop. While this was understandable, it also increased the impact of the epidemic on the population, who were suddenly deprived of livelihoods and access to the market.