Photo by B Lab East Africa

Posted in: news

25th February 2020

How Do We Build Systems That Serve Humanity?

Last month, thousands of world leaders, activists, corporate executives, economists and more descended upon Davos for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. From the climate crisis to digital and data governance to our global tax systems, one constant remained over the many conversations and commitments at Davos: the need for total systems change.

It’s increasingly clear that the status quo of our economic, social, political and even humanitarian systems are not serving all stakeholders. Where do we go from here?

For Robert Karanja, our Engagement Catalyst, Africa, that question is one he’s continuing to explore with the World Economic Forum. As a Member of the Forum’s Global Future Council on the Humanitarian System, he’s working to ensure the world’s humanitarian systems are fit for the future and can meet the needs of those most vulnerable.

We sat down with Robert to discuss his role on this Council, what’s on the Council’s agenda this year, how he sees these priorities overlapping with The B Team’s mission and more.

What is the focus of the Global Future Council on the Humanitarian System? What do you think is the most comprehensive change this Council can make in the world?

The Humanitarian Systems Council believes that a better future lies in supporting the resilience and agency of crisis-affected people in fragile contexts. We believe that the humanitarian system should support, enable and scale inclusive local markets—employment and business opportunities—in these environments. To me, bringing the impact of the humanitarian system to local markets is the most sweeping change these efforts could bring.

How do we propose to do this? By accelerating large-scale capital investment and leveraging digital solutions through private sector-led initiatives. We want to make sure these business-led efforts are seen as key enablers to this transformative approach.

As a member, I’ve already been able to help build and scale some of these solutions. One that I’m most proud of was around the refugee crisis in Kenya. Currently, governments across Africa struggle to track and share refugee and migration data with other governments and NGOs since many refugees lack valid identity documents. I worked with my colleagues to develop a case for how blockchain could be used to generate digital identities for those displaced populations in refugee camps in Kenya.

Members of the Global Future Council on the Humanitarian System talk through ways to build a future-fit humanitarian system. Photo by World Economic Forum/Benedikt von Loebel.

What are some of the Council’s biggest priorities for the year ahead? What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing this agenda?

In the year ahead, the Council will be focused on scaling financial access and inclusion and clean energy access in the world’s most fragile contexts. We’ll also be working to increase business interest and investment in technologies that can address these challenges. At Davos, we launched the Humanitarian Investing Opportunity Platform to provide investors and businesses an open and comprehensive view of humanitarian projects that they can support.

Regionally speaking, we will be piloting deep-dive interventions in Jordan and Ethiopia this year. In Jordan, we’ll focus on increasing access to jobs and connections for Syrian refugee-job seekers through mobile and web-based applications. We’re also working to tackle youth unemployment in the country by building platforms to connect entrepreneurs with mentors and business services. In Ethiopia, our efforts will center on making financial services more accessible through technologies like mobile banking and digital registration including birth certificates, driving licenses, passports and national ID documents. We’re also focusing on increasing access and ease of use of renewable energy through deploying e-commerce platforms, mobile wallets and pay-as-you-go models.

With conflicts more protracted, extreme weather events more frequent and migration rates and youth populations growing at an unprecedented pace, we feel these approaches are more important than ever. We can no longer respond how we have in the past. And we’re starting to see shifts starting to take place here. We see technology, both as an opportunity and a risk, deployed in more solutions and a growing interest in business as a partner in these efforts.

How do you see these priorities overlapping with The B Team’s? Over the coming year, what are the items on both The B Team’s and the Council’s radar that you’re most excited to tackle?

There are some very clear overlaps between the council’s focus areas and some of our work on The B Team. The Council’s focus on building strategic partnerships between business and the humanitarian sector is aligned with The B Team’s work on protecting civic rights with the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders. The B Team’s work to support refugees and migrants is also proof of how business can engage with humanitarian solutions. Both The B Team and the Council’s work also center around bringing together unlikely partners. In both organizations, convening business, civil society and government agencies and leaders together is central to everything we do. For both the Council and The B Team, we know that we cannot achieve our goals without this radical collaboration.

With conflicts more protracted, extreme weather events more frequent and migration rates and youth populations growing at an unprecedented pace...we can no longer respond how we have in the past."

Robert Karanja, Engagement Catalyst, Africa, The B Team

To look even further ahead, we’re now at the dawn of the “decade of delivery,” meaning we have 10 years to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and build inclusive global economies. What do you think a 2030 where The B Team and the Council’s visions are realized looks like?

Reaching the SDGs was always going to be a challenge for all of us, but I feel, even more importantly, that we should first take stock of what we have achieved to date. We need to measure what we have accomplished. We know that if it doesn’t get measured, it won’t matter in the long run.

Now, we need to develop a meaningful roadmap of what we can realistically achieve over this decade. I feel the biggest hindrance to achieving the Goals by 2030 is the gap in funding from both the private and public sectors. We’re seeing an annual $2.5 trillion finance gap in reaching these Goals—one that’s remained persistent since the launch of the Goals in 2015.

To me, a 2030 where we’ve achieved the SDGs and realized both The B Team and the Council’s visions are realized looks, at the broadest level, like a world where everyone is doing their part. We’re each recognizing the responsibility, and opportunity, we have to invest in sustainable and equitable systems that work for all, not for the few. Getting there will require an overhaul of our current status quo—one that I’m excited to tackle with both The B Team and the Humanitarian Systems Council.