Opportunities for responsible business at Humanitarian Expo

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Poland Today talks to Ambassador Wojciech Ponikiewski, Deputy Head of the Department for Economic Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about the huge upcoming Warsaw Humanitarian Expo.

On 11-13 June the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MSZ) is organising the first Warsaw Humanitarian Expo, an international event that will bring together global decision-makers in the world of humanitarian and development assistance, as well as producers and service providers who engage – or could potentially take part – in humanitarian projects around the world. The aim of the trade fair, co-organised with the National Chamber of Commerce (Krajowa Izba Gospodarcza) and uniform services provider Lubawa SA, and which takes place at PTAK Warsaw Expo, is to help create a better understanding of the business aspect of humanitarian and development assistance, as well as highlight the numerous opportunities open to a wide variety of companies.

“The event is made up of a number of elements,” says Ambassador Ponikiewski. “There’s a regular fair for companies which can present their merchandise. It’s open to companies from anywhere, especially from the wider region. It’s an event with international scope, not only for Polish companies. The second component is the conference, with many very interesting and high-level people. One confirmed speaker is Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and a guru on this subject.”

The third component, says the Ambassador, is the ‘carrot for business’ part, to answer the broad question of why businesses would want to get involved in humanitarian affairs. “We have to tell companies what the opportunities are for their businesses in this massive sector,” he adds. “Of course, there are certain standards which businesses have to operate under they have to operate responsibly. This is the stick part. It really is a huge market and a very secure one too, as you’re dealing with international bodies like the UN, the EU and the Red Cross. Unfortunately, Polish companies are involved in only a very small way. We have tried to understand why this is the case. One element is certainly the cultural barrier, in that the tenders and procedures have to be done in English and there can be no mistakes. Companies have to invest the time and they have to invest in people.”

A significant part of the event is the Warsaw Procurement Forum, in which around 30 procurement agents representing global organisations will be involved, including from the UN, EU, NATO and the International Red Cross. “These experts will discuss in a practical way how companies can participate in the projects,” says the Ambassador. These bodies, he says, are keen to find new solutions to their needs. “Procurement officers in big NGOs, UN agencies or other institutions which provide aid are looking for new solutions and are open to new proposals. They are constantly interested in being provided with new solutions. There is always room for business to come forward with ideas.” This need, believes the Ambassador, opens the door to an area in which Poland is increasingly active: the startup industry. “They can really get involved as they have innovative, and often easy, solutions.”

For more information about the event, please go to: Warsaw Humanitarian Expo 

Ambassador Wojciech Ponikiewski is deputy head of the Department for Economic Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His career with the Ministry has seen him take on a variety of roles, including as Poland’s chief negotiator of the Kyoto Protocol (signed in December 1997). In 1998 he became director of the Department for the United Nations Economic and Social Affairs. In 2001 he was appointed as Minister Plenipotentiary, Head of the Political Section at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Rome. On his return to Warsaw, he served consecutively as head of two departments: for Foreign Economic Policy and for the Americas. In 2010 he was appointed as Ambassador to Italy and Malta. He then headed the Department for the UN and Human Rights. At present, he serves as deputy head of the Department for Economic Cooperation.

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Written by: Richard Stephens