Win-Win – So Who Loses? Humanitarian Considerations when Partnering with Private Business

Authors: Mie Vestergaard*, Roskilde University
Topics: Development, Political Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Humanitarian,Business,Partnerships,SDGs,CSR,BrandAid,Capitalism,Commodification,Compassion
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Estherwood, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) stipulate a need to establish innovative and inclusive partnerships between governments, civil society, and the private sector to address growing and interconnected global challenges such as poverty and climate change. Within the humanitarian sector, large humanitarian agencies describe their intensified partnerships with private business as a ‘win-win situation’ for the involved parties as well as the global poor in need of assistance. In a Danish context, one of the largest humanitarian NGOs, The Danish Refugee Council, has called the partnership approach a necessary paradigm shift in a world with political discord and insufficient financing to address global problems. However, the humanitarian sector is more divided on the issue than what official partnership discourses display. This paper questions the ‘win-win’ discourse on humanitarian-business partnerships by exploring humanitarian organizations’ various motivations and considerations for collaborating with the private sector. Based on semi-structured interviews with leading humanitarian organizations in Denmark as well as evaluations of past partnership initiatives, the paper addresses the following questions: How do humanitarian organizations approach long-term strategic partnerships with private business differently than cause related marketing and CSR initiatives? How do humanitarian NGOs reconcile their ethical and moral authority inscribed in the humanitarian principles with business and commercial logics? And how do humanitarian organizations address the question of ‘responsibility’ for the growing and interconnected global problems through an approach that generally underlines partnership and win-win for all?

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