The Business of Philanthropy

Peter Maurer; A Conversation with Badr Jafar

June 28, 2021 Badr Jafar Season 1 Episode 18
The Business of Philanthropy
Peter Maurer; A Conversation with Badr Jafar
Show Notes Transcript

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), speaks with Badr Jafar, Founding Patron of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy, about the kind of capital that is needed to meet the humanitarian needs on the ground in the coming years, the forces that have been driving the demands of the ICRC, and the engagement opportunities that the ICRC provides for strategic philanthropists. 

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Badr: Dr. Peter, on behalf of the Center for Strategic Philanthropy at Cambridge University, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me on the global humanitarian situation and the opportunities that exists for philanthropists, in emerging markets and everywhere to help address these challenges. As president since 2012, Peter Maurer has, of course, led the International Committee of the Red Cross, the ICRC created the 157 years ago, I believe, and which today through its 18,000, strong, dedicated stuff, carries out critical humanitarian work in over 90 countries around the world. Peter previously held a number of senior positions at the UN. And before joining the ICRC he served as the Swiss Government State Secretary for Foreign Affairs. So, Peter, I'd like to begin by asking you to describe just how dire the current humanitarian financing situation is around the world. It's generally known that we are falling short of the funds that we need to address all of the immediate crises that we are facing. But can you put that into some perspective for people watching this, including, in particular, the impact of COVID-19 where of course, as you know, the World Bank estimates that a further 115 million people could face poverty by the end of next year due to the pandemic?


Dr. Peter: Well, thanks a lot, Badr, for the opportunity to exchange with you and with the center, of course, who is a very much appreciated partner of the ICRC. It's an interesting question, Badr, to try to frame a little bit the landscape of needs that we are encountering. And there are, of course, very different perspectives that you can take. If we look at classical humanitarian work. And if I see what all our converging calculation be it at the Red Cross, be it at the UN is indicating, then we are certainly short falling a couple of billion US dollars, just even for emergency operation, attached and related to COVID-19.


So, you can always dispute figures, but I think easily we could argue that the shortfall is somewhere between four and eight billion US dollars, even in short term emergency work, which should be done in order to prevent the worst and what the World Bank has indicated, and you have quoted, Badr, with to prevent 100 million additional people getting from sort of precarious wealth into poverty. So that's just one perspective. If I take a little bit a larger perspective, if we look at shortfalls of capital, in order to achieve the SDGs, again, there are many calculations estimations. But I think here again, the international financial institutions put something of a figure of US $2.5 trillion, which would be needed annually to have over the next 10 years to achieve the SDGs.


And so, whether you're thinking short term humanitarianism, or in long term, more sustainable development and resilience building, these figures, look at first sight big. If I put that into perspective, and that capital, private capital in financial institution is worth 250 trillion, then 2.5 trillion doesn't look like an unsurmountable challenge to the international community. If I look at five billion emergency funding, that doesn't look like a big issue, knowing what budgets of wealthy states and wealthy organizations and people look like.


So, what is irritating in the present landscape of needs is of course, that financial means are there, different kinds of financial means, but they don't find their way to this huge gap in short term as well as medium- and long-term consolidation. And when we put figures, we have to acknowledge one thing more, which is relativizing the gap. And that's, of course, that there are serious absorption capacities, when we go into a really fragile context where the biggest needs are.


As you know, the ICRC is working in 25 to 30 contexts, which we consider high fragility in which poverty, conflict, climate change, COVID-19, or the economic consequences of COVID-19 have basically caused a massive breakdown. These 25 to 30 contexts are at the origin of 80%. of irregular migration worldwide. It is at the core of the security concerns worldwide for not only for those countries themselves, but also for neighbors which are affected.


The Lebanon example is just one of them, which sits at the core or next to the Syrian conflict, which has so predominantly influenced our view of humanitarian work over the last decade. So, these are maybe some of the reflections and there is a potential, of course, which we have to find and where I believe that organization like mine, can act as a translator between potential capital and the needs on the ground.


Badr: So, I want to definitely come back to the sources of capital and also short term versus long term. But of course, the nature of humanitarian crises, as you mentioned, has changed significantly in the past few decades. And through my exposure to the sector, as a member of the UN Secretary General's high-level panel on humanitarian financing, I learned that the clear trend towards human conflict as a root cause and also the significantly longer-term nature of crises. So, what trends and forces have been driving the demands of the ICRC these past few years in particular? And how do you see that changing over the next few years, perhaps also in relation to COVID?


Dr. Peter: Well, I think, Badr, when I look at the places in which we see the biggest needs and the worst developments, then we indeed have something which I can put under the heading of complex emergency, but what makes complexity, I think it is violence and conflict. And when I talk about violence, it's also the fragmentation of power, which is so striking and which is so complex to manage, we don't have any more.


The predominant feature of violence in fragile context is not two sides fighting with each other. Most of the conflict have more than 10, 15 or 20 parties to a conflict and the drivers of violence and conflict are of course exclusion, injustice, political conflict between societies and within societies and it has fueled over, as you rightly say, in a much longer perspective, these conflicts.


The average presence of ICRC now in our 20 largest operation is more than 30 years. We have been in these conflicts for 30 years and that doesn't look like short term emergency, but on top of violence, with all its intrinsic dynamics, we see of course, climate change as a powerful accelerator and as a factor which complexifies the situation. I just visited the Sahel and when you are in the Sahel, you see that the changing rainfall patterns are an accelerator of violence and conflict because there are scarcer surfaces for productive activity, for agricultural and cultural activities and these accentuates conflict.


We see also much faster changing weather patterns. Rainfalls either too much or too little. sequence themselves in much more frequent sequences. And here again, I arrive in Niger, in Burkina Faso, the predominant issue of the day during my visit was the floods, who would expect that the floods are the key issue in the Sahel. And so, we have climate change and environmental degradation as a key factor. We have structural poverty, which we haven't managed, despite all the MDGs and SDGs, really to sustainably get out of over the past decades. And we have serious governance and institutional issues in many of the fragile countries.


So, this complex situation, which is then topped by COVID, 19, and its primary and secondary economic and social impacts, makes a very explosive mix, which leads to trends which cannot be addressed by humanitarian actors only. I think you can throw tons of money at these problems, but you won't be able to solve them if you don't have a more sophisticated and differentiated approach to those complexities, which go from support, to training, capacity building to institution building, to building inclusive societies, orienting your work towards stronger resilience. So, it needs some more complex interaction also between organization in order to deal with those issues.


Badr: Right. And on the money issue, if you permit me again, are you witnessing an increase in the use of blended finance or other innovative approaches to financing humanitarian projects in your work at the ICRC? And how can we enable or encourage more pooling of resources between donors from different sectors and also from different parts of the world?


Dr. Peter: Well, it's definitely something we strongly advocate for. You may have seen; we have published yesterday an article The Several Stakeholders of the Humanitarian and Resilience Initiative at the World Economic Forum. So, we have published an editorial, which really makes itself an advocate for blended finance. I think we do try hard to see that on the one side, we have emergencies which need emergency money, which has its characteristics, in order to help people, survive. But then you need to describe and to allow for pathways on which people can get to more independent lives again. And this is basically in characteristic calls for blended finance.


Because once people are displaced, uprooted, and marginalized through violence, conflict, climate change, and whatever, you need to bring them back step by step into more productive activity. Most of the time, the first step can't be and they will, again, be marginalized if you subject them to the logic of the market as such. And so blended finance comes with the promise that you can have differentiated approach according to the needs and you can design a pathway into more autonomous and independent lives for people. And I think that's really where we think at the ICRC, we have a role to play. While I would advocate for states to finance more generous, our emergency part of the work, I don't think that we can have emergency finance for 30 years in a row.


We need to design pathways out of it. And here blended finance, which ties into emergency finance first phase is probably the best template we have at the present time to design those pathways. And we really work hard with the World Bank, with regional development bank, with development institutions, from states also, with philanthropy, with different actors in this area to see how can we intelligently put our energies together and align them together so that we can use different instruments and financial instruments for these very complex situations.


Badr: And on the subject of collaboration. I recall, again, the work done by the SGS high level panel, understanding the continuum of humanitarian and development capital flows towards building resilience, if you will, in vulnerable communities around the world. How good would you say collaboration within the humanitarian sector is by different sector actors? And how is the nature of the interface that you referred to between humanitarian and development intervention changed over the years?


Dr. Peter: Well, I think there is a strong willingness and a strong awareness about collaboration. But there are also challenges and complexities to align our different tools in a way that it makes sense, I think my biggest preoccupation today is that in the most fragile contexts of the world in which we are most challenged, to really stabilize, we don't see hundreds of factors present. And very often development actors are very much absent in these situations. And that's the reason why, as a frontline humanitarian organization, we think that in many of those contexts, where we feel that development actors with their ramifications and conditions cannot yet really be present, we feel that we have to step in and offer some other forms of perspectives and finance.


And we decided at the ICRC to particularly look at those areas in which we have measurability of activities, which gives a certain promise of economic logic coming even to the most fragile context. And which would allow us then, to use those tools. But I think, contrary to the general expectation, while the world of humanitarian organization and development organization seems to be very sort of populated, there are a huge number of organization. My biggest worry is that in a most fragile context, we don't find these actors easily. We find them in capitals of what we would consider at ICRC relatively nice and stable countries.


While in the South Sudan's, in the eastern Ukraine, in the rural Afghanistan, in southern Somalia, in many places in the Sahel, in the Lake Chad, we don't see hundreds of those actors really contributing to stabilizing fragile contexts. So sometimes the lack of presence is what drives us as a humanitarian organization to develop ourselves some tools, hoping that we can drag more climate funds, more development funds towards those situation and, you know, as good as I do, Badr, one of the big issue is just risk. And I think if we don't get our head around having more organizations, people, capital, coming to risky contexts and taking some risks, we will have difficulty stabilizing these contexts.


Badr: Absolutely. And, that brings me very nicely to my final question. As you know, the top 30 fastest growing economies in the world last year, although in emerging markets, a lot of wealth is being generated within these comics. As a result, a new generation of strategic philanthropists is beginning to emerge across parts of Africa, the Middle East, and developing Asia, for the aspiring philanthropist that is watching this from the emerging markets specifically, how would you recommend that they engage or work with organizations such as the ICRC in addressing humanitarian crises in aid of the most vulnerable children, women and men of the world?


Dr. Peter: Well, first, I would hope that strategic philanthropists from emerging market will bring a spirit of better understanding what the complexities of some of the very fragile contexts are, because in their lifetime, they have experienced how their own countries have emerged from often difficult, fragile, marginalized poor contexts into booming economies, which have brought them wealth. And, I think that is an advantage of strategic philanthropists from emerging market coming to the work type that we are doing because it comes very often.


And I see that myself with a sounder and more in-depth understandings of the complexity we are dealing with. What we hope to offer to those philanthropist is an increasing engagement platform which separates, as I alluded to before, emergency money which I still believe should be largely financed by public power and states. And we hope to have kind of an additional portfolio, a pipeline of projects and activities, which are designed really to what I call the pathway, out of dependency, and the pathway towards autonomy. And I think that's where I think this is attractive for those philanthropists who see that at the end of the day, strategically, we have to fix the most fragile, the poorest, and to bring them out of dependency and deprivation.


And I think the ICRC with its frontline experience, with its knowledge, with its understanding of the logics on the ground is certainly a country which tries to offer to strategic philanthropists, platforms, projects, programs of engagement, which have this more long-term perspective. So, our projects that we are developing, in particular for water system in urban contexts, from Goma to Maiduguri to the Sahel is an interesting issue I think for strategic philanthropy.


As you know, we are a key actor for disabled worldwide because of our work in conflict and war. And we hope that strategic philanthropy can also engage on building health systems and building systems for the physically challenged in those poor contexts. So, we hope that we can add to those thematics of water, health and offer engagement platforms for strategic philanthropists, which will look attractive because increasingly we are looking at delivering impact to investors, blended finance possibilities, which somehow try to build a value chain, from philanthropy, to market graduation.


And I think that's what at the end of the day we need to fix and where I hope, that humanitarian organization like mine, but also in cooperation with the World Bank, with the financial institutions, with the UN with our partners in humanitarian development, climate change, and other we can offer attractive solutions.


Badr: And for those that are watching who really want to learn more about that, please do also visit And again, I'm sure if there are people who want to connect directly then they can either go directly to the ICRC and the center, of course, would be very would be delighted to help to create that connection as well.


Dr. Peter: Thank you.


Badr: Thank you, dear Peter, first and foremost, of course, for all the phenomenally important work that you continue to spearhead and of course, for taking the time to share your great insights with us. Thank you again.


Dr. Peter: Thanks a lot, Badr, for your interest and for your great work at the center that you're sponsoring and engaging in. Thank you.

 Badr: Thank you.