5: The private sector and disasters: from reactive response to disaster resilience

The role of the private sector in philanthropic roles in disaster is less developed than that of foundations and has tended to be very firm-centric in perspective. This chapter first explores private sector roles at a theoretical level, then places a critical lens on the literature on corporate philanthropy and applies these to the 2019–20 Australian bushfires. The firm-centric or instrumental approach focuses on enhancing brand recognition and capitalising on business opportunities by selling goods and services or serving objectives of business continuity management. A community-centric lens focuses on deeper engagement with stakeholders and aligning disaster responses with broader strategies of corporate responsibility. This wider view increases the likelihood that firms will invest in mitigation preparation and resilience for communities at risk from climate change and other natural hazards. The chapter encourages a wider view of the ‘private sector’ over the current tendency to focus on large public companies. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly family businesses, are often the more deeply embedded in local communities and the first to step up.

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