Happy Heroes, Brand Loyalty and the Value of Values: When Business meets Humanitarianism

Authors: Mette Olwig*, Roskilde University
Topics: Development, Cultural Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: Humanitarianism, partnerships, SDGs, CSR, BrandAid, branding, sustainable development, new development actors
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


Business-Humanitarian Partnerships are not just growing in number, they are also becoming institutionalized within the development sector. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) list, for example, as target number 17.17: “Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships.” Co-operation between businesses and humanitarian NGOs can take many forms, including corporate social responsibility initiatives (e.g. donations, capacity building), cause-marketed products (e.g. so-called Brand Aid Initiatives) and long-term partnerships (such as is encouraged by the SDGs). Based on fieldwork among businesses engaged in commodifying humanitarianism this paper explores the business incentives and rationalities behind engaging in humanitarianism. In particular, it looks at how businesses balance ethical, branding and marketing components and how for-profit humanitarian narratives differ from those of the non-profit sector. The paper finds that while the businesses pose as new development actors, use the language of the SDGs and in this way work within traditional aid frames, they are much more concerned with the consumer than the distant other in need when articulating humanitarianism; saving the world makes the consumer happy, and happy consumers are good for business.

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