The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has a long history of responding to global disasters and emergency situations. Taking even just a cursory look at the news and you will see stories about how the Agency is responding to the complex emergencies and humanitarian crises in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Not to mention that USAID is engaged in recovery and reconstruction efforts from the earthquake in Haiti and flooding in Pakistan.

At the Aid & International Development Forum (AIDF) before a packed audience of over 120 people, I had the privilege of talking about how USAID utilizes partnerships with the private sector to support our disaster and emergency response activities around the globe. Joining me in this discussion were my colleagues, Carolyn Brehm from Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Ted Okada from Microsoft, who work with the GDA regularly to manage and expand our global partnerships.

In all areas of disaster and emergency response, USAID leverages the financial resources, technical expertise, training capacity, transportation networks, and technology many private sector companies can provide in a crisis. By combining USAID’s own experience in humanitarian and disaster assistance, public-private partnerships can bring a wealth of experience and technical assistance to bear to alleviate human suffering and save millions of lives.

The focus of my remarks were grounded in our Emergencies Sector Guide – part of a series of guides on how USAID does business with the private sector – which focuses on how USAID has formed alliances in all five phases of responding to disasters and crises: preparedness and mitigation; acute response; recovery; reconstruction; and transition. This guide points to the important contributions our private sector partners, such as P&G and Microsoft, can provide in times of crises.

As emphasized by my private sector colleagues, companies are working in partnership not only with USAID, but also other donor organizations, local NGOs in disaster affected countries and other partners to provide humanitarian assistance.  Carolyn indicated that with over 4.2 billion customers and rising, P&G has focused its philanthropic activities around its core business objectives through its Live, Learn and Thrive initiative, which focuses on the health, education and skill needs of children during the first 13 years of life. The primary area USAID has partnered with P&G is around their Children’s Safe Drinking Water program that reaches people through PUR packets, a water purifying technology developed by P&G and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One small PUR packet quickly turns 10 liters of dirty, potentially deadly water into clean, drinkable water. The packets can be used anywhere in the world, including areas affected by natural disaster.

USAID also has a long standing relationship with Microsoft, having worked together in over 70 partnerships around the globe to help expand ICT education and opportunities for local entrepreneurs to generate income and develop their local economies.  At AIDF, Microsoft presented a moving short video describing activities underway in Haiti to help introduce technology and training to schools as the country rebuilds. Through its partnership with NetHope, (supported by USAID) Microsoft is providing equipment, training and technical assistance to over 40 schools to help them leap into the 21st Century.

USAID and its private sector partners are working together to help meet the needs of millions around the globe, recognizing that in this day and age, we cannot solve the challenges facing the global community alone.