SMEs for Humanity initiative seeks to connect relief organisations with SMEs in areas requiring humanitarian aid
An online portal designed to connect small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with humanitarian organisations involved in relief operations is currently being piloted in Jordan, according to Crescent Enterprises CEO Badr Jafar.
The initiative, called SMEs for Humanity or SME4H, seeks to address coordination gaps between humanitarian organisations and on-the-ground SMEs, which can help provide goods and services, create jobs and stimulate local economic activity.
The online portal allows national governments, development agencies, humanitarian and community organisations to post their needs, and then alert geographically close or technically relevant SMEs who can partner with them.
The system also allows SMEs to broadcast their needs and that of their communities.
While the concept was formally launched in 2016, it is now being piloted in the Jordanian cities of Amman, Irbid and Zarqa.
Jafar, who was among those who participated in the 2016 launch event, said that the idea was to create “like an Alibaba for SMEs to connect with the larger humanitarian system.”
“You have this very powerful community, which, unlike the larger conglomerates who close offices and move employees elsewhere in an emergency situation, have nowhere to go,” he told Arabian Business.
“They are an intrinsic part of communities, yet nobody is involving them in the recovery efforts.”
Jafar added that local SMEs can serve as a “first response system, but on a commercial basis.”
The pilot SME4H pilot programme, he added, would likely be finished in the spring of 2019. The initiative has a steering committee which includes a representative of Crescent Enterprises, Mohamad Abdulkader Agha, as well as prominent members of Jordan’s SME sector and representatives of various humanitarian organisations.
Additionally, Jafar noted that much of the inspiration for SME4H came as a result of observations and experiences from other humanitarian relief operations, particularly in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
“It was frustrating for me and others to see how the small business community, that is part and parcel of societies and communities, were never includes as part of the conversation when the humanitarian system came to help,” he said.
“It’s the unintended consequences of non-strategic aid that cause a lot more problems.”
One of the largest challenges to setting up such a system, Jafar added, is resistance from organisations with long entrenched practices.
“It hasn’t been easy to convince the humanitarian organisations that dealing with small businesses is worth their while,” he said. “Nobody likes change and nobody likes to have to do something a different way.”