Madagascar: the Private Sector doing aid work

Telma is a Malagasy telecommunications company with a difference, and it’s not in their branding or services, but in the way they carry out their corporate social responsibility.

In Madagascar they lead a pioneering collective of around 72 private companies that are helping the island nation in responding to emergencies like floods, cyclones and the current effects of El Nino on the south of the country.

Their online Private Sector – Humanitarian platform can be found here:

Danielle Rahaingonjatovo, Project Manager of the Telma Foundation:

How did Telma get involved in humanitarian aid?

The Telma Foundation has always worked closely with the government`s National Bureau for Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC), ever since 2009, when we signed an agreement with them – to make sure there wasn’t any disruption in communication infrastructure during emergencies like cyclones. We were the ones to put most of Madagascar’s communications infrastructure in place, so it was natural that they came to us. As a telecommunications company we provided fiber optics as well as phones for data transfer. We also developed an SMS alert system for zones that are at risk of natural disasters. We have mobilised all our human and material resources to be ready in case of any need.

In 2012 the UN and Government launched a competition to find the best humanitarian actor from among the private sector, and in 2013 they announced it was us! We have also worked with the international organisation ‘Telecommunications without borders’ and the Vodafone Foundation to make sure we are able to continuing providing telecommunications support, even when there are power outages, so this kind of assistance is normal for us, because we were already so engaged.

What is the private sector humanitarian partnership?

We take on the role of coordinator of the private sector partnership and have now set up a web portal for sharing information and collecting donations.  The partnership didn’t properly begin until 2014 when we began reaching out to other companies to see their interest and capacity. Our first test as a combined platform was in 2015 with the floods in the capital Antananarivo. We didn’t have the organisation we have today, but Telma took the lead and shared all the information between the different people involved. We already had this spirit of federation and engaging people and I think it was this that has really made the platform successful; it is already part of the spirit of the Foundation because we are open to all people, even when it is difficult to contact people! The Telma Foundation is the lead in innovation in humanitarian response and in this role we set up a mobile banking account called MVola where the diaspora can send money through Western Union and again, during the floods, we provided people who had been displaced with phones and credit to call their families.

Everything has developed in such a short time following the launch of this platform. We participated in a global consultation in Geneva in October 2015 where we showed the participation and commitment of the Private Sector and we were referred to as "Madagascar; champions of the Private Sector engagement." We have even been asked to present on it at the World Humanitarian Summit at the end of May 2016 where we will show a video of our work and the new web portal which showcases the work of the different private sector members and share information quickly during an emergency with everybody.

Why do you think it is important for companies like Telma to get involved in humanitarian issues?

Telma is a Malagasy (Madagascan) company. Our slogan is: “I choose a Malagasy company”. We are 33% state owned so we have a duty to respond when something happens, we can’t remain indifferent. In business terms; the better off the people of Madagascar are, the more they can buy our products, so it is in our interest to invest in our country. We want to give our clients the purchasing power to afford our products. When businesses get involved in sustainable development it enriches them and at the same time helps create a healthy population and environment. In a humanitarian disaster, we could just as easily be the victims as anyone else, as we are all inhabitants of the same place, so it is in our interests to be able to respond well and quickly to problems like illness, cyclone, earthquake, drought or insect infestations. This is also what we use to convince other businesses to get involved, we say; “you need to protect your company, your resources, and your Malagasy employees.” For us the important this is to be better prepared, as one nation, for things like cyclones that come regularly. Our employees are our collaborators and ambassadors to the rest of the community. Our product – telecommunications – is tool in itself for development.

Sophie Perez, CARE Madagascar Country Director:

Why did CARE decide to work with private sector companies?

Our first interaction with them was in 2015 after the flooding in Antananarivo. Telma attended the UN coordination meetings and we saw they were very active and had a lot of capacity to intervene, but that they didn’t know necessarily how or where to do it. I was very impressed by what they were doing – I have worked in many different places like Haiti and Morocco and it is the first time I have seen the private sector so involved, and in such high level meetings. They are extremely motivated, committed and have a huge logistics capacity, warehouses and labour force which as non-governmental organisations relying on funding, we just don’t have access to ourselves. On top of this they bring a fresh perspective and ideas, which are often quite innovative and can help shake up the aid world – which can often be a bit traditional in its thinking!

How is CARE working with private companies?

After the 2015 floods we received funding to provide relief items to people who had lost everything in the floods. The provision of these kinds of packages of things like buckets, soaps and toiletries is usually very time-consuming for us; buying all the different items, checking their quality, packaging them up and then trying to find a way to get them to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people in different locations, but for large companies it is their everyday business. The private sector platform, which is led by Telma, helped find an appropriate partner for us – the discount store chain: Leader Price – and they were extremely open to our suggestions and specifications of items and they even offered us more than we had asked for.

Now, with the El Nino food security situation in the south of the country we are working with another company Bush Proof to help dig wells for communities, and run the maintenance of them going forward. We had worked with Bush Proof as just a drilling provider before, but we began to see they also had a lot of good ideas themselves so we have brought them in at the project design stage and are also involving them in advocacy with the government and others around the importance of access to water.

How did you find the experience working with the private sector?

It was only small scale, but it was great! Leader Price who we worked with was really understanding and efficient. They even acted as intermediaries with other firms and suppliers on our behalf to get all the things we needed and it was the first time we got such good feedback from the beneficiaries and women in particular, on the quality and presentation of the goods they received.

What does CARE bring to the relationship?

When we work with private companies who are not part of the aid world it is also crucial they understand the context and situation in which they work so, along with the UN, we have been providing them with training on the basics of emergency response and humanitarian principles so they understand the standards, norms and the human face of what we do. They are keen to take more and more responsibility in humanitarian responses in the country, which is great, but it is important they do so fully informed and aware of how these things work.

What is the way forward from here?

The key to any successful private sector – humanitarian organisation partnership, or in fact any kind of partnership, is being able to build and maintain trust, and this goes both ways, because I think both NGOs and the private sector are often quite suspicious of each other. The platform is still very new, and a lot of the things we are doing are works in progress, so we need to keep working together and learning how to do things together, which we can’t do without trust and dialogue.

The next step for us is to keep working with them to develop criteria and a specific charter for those who sign up to the platform, to make sure they conform to certain ethics and code of conduct that don’t go against our principles as humanitarian organisations and to keep them accountable. We are also trying to involve more NGOs in the platform as well as businesses and expand it further.