Neal Keny-Guyer, Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Corps, on how a public-private partnership helps Haitians to protect their livelihoods after disasters. Read the World Economic Forum’s report on The Role of Civil Society.

As a global community, we have not been doing a great job in helping the poor. At least, not in a way that lasts. The trouble is not necessarily lack of effort. It’s that, until recently, too many players have been working alone.

The theme of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos is “Resilient Dynamism”, a concept that underscores the interconnection of global risks. How we respond to climate change, for example, impacts many societal, geopolitical and economic risks. As a result, we need to act on many levels at once, an approach that demands new thinking from leaders in government, the private sector and civil society.

If civil society is “the space where we act for the common good”, it is in this space that I believe we’ll find truly game-changing solutions. One example from my own organization’s work addresses how small business owners can reduce their risks in an unstable world. For 15 years, Haiti’s largest microfinance lender, Fonkoze, has provided loans to tens of thousands of Haitian women seeking to escape poverty through entrepreneurship. Sadly, as Fonkoze can attest, a single catastrophic event is enough to wipe out a business owner’s entire inventory and livelihood.

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti brought into sharp focus the extreme economic vulnerability of the poor. In response, Mercy Corps and Fonkoze co-founded MiCRO (Microinsurance Catastrophe Risk Organisation). Far from a traditional aid programme, MiCRO aspires to be a profitable company. Together with Swiss Re, a global reinsurer, and the UK’s Department for International Development, we’ve developed a hybrid insurance product that provides small business owners with an economic buffer against natural catastrophes.

This past year, due to Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Isaac, at least 40% of Haiti’s harvest was destroyed, causing widespread hunger and hardship. Yet donor response was muted. In contrast, MiCRO paid out claims to 28,000 clients, worth a total of US$ 6.8 million. The product is not perfect, but it reduces reliance on foreign aid and increases resilience.

I believe this public-private partnership is proof that unlikely bedfellows can achieve greater impact for the greater good working together than they could alone. Since we cannot stop crises from happening, we have to find more ways to reimagine our roles and align our efforts to help people recover faster and in a more meaningful way.

Neal Keny-Guyer is Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Corps (@mercycorps), a global humanitarian organization that works to improve the lives of the people in the world’s toughest places. 

Image: A Haitian woman at a downtown market in Port-au-Prince. REUTERS/Swoan Parker