Author Archives: awells14

Design for Humanity Initiative

Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs and Vignelli Center for Design Studies Announce Design for Humanity Initiative

February 1, 2018, New York City – At a time of heightened and prolonged crises, humanitarian actors persistently strive to respond to affected communities with more effective and dignified relief and recovery interventions. Similarly, designers and architects endeavor to contribute their skills for social change and humanitarian action to uplift human rights and dignity.

Whether ensuring more dignified shelters and settlements for displaced persons, designing more inclusive and resilient urban ecosystems or employing art and design as a vehicle for advocacy–the possibilities for design and humanitarian action are endless.

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University is thus partnering with the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) to launch a three-year Design for Humanity Initiative.

A Design for Humanity Summit will be held on June 22, 2018 at Fordham University. Presenters and participants will identify current best practices, needs, and gaps in the humanitarian sector as well as generate design strategies and future partnerships.

“By facilitating an exchange between humanitarian responders and multi-talented design professionals, we believe both communities can devise and implement more sustainable, human-centered, participatory and innovative design strategies,” said Brendan Cahill, IIHA Executive Director.

“Industrial designers, graphic designers, interior designers, and architects bring critical design thinking and a participatory problem solving process to humanitarian challenges. We innovate to respond to human needs and alleviate real-world problems,” said R. Roger Remington, Director of RIT’s Vignelli Center for Design Studies.

The Summit will explore how innovative design can reshape humanitarian action for the benefit of people affected by crises by highlighting a range of piloted and pioneered design innovations for humanitarian response as well as facilitating future partnership and project implementation.

“Design professionals and the humanitarian community can play a significant role in supporting humanitarian relief processes through more sustainable, human-centered, and participatory design strategies. Bringing together designers, humanitarian practitioners, private sector, academia and government to look at best practices from the field will allow innovative solutions for emergency and protracted crisis response,” said Alberto Preato, IIHA Humanitarian Design Visiting Research Fellow.

Mr. Preato works as Program Manager for the UN Migration Agency (IOM) in Niger where  he coordinates protection and assistance for vulnerable migrants traversing the Sahel on the Central Mediterranean Route and oversees emergency assistance to internally displaced persons in the Lake Chad Basin.

Humanitarian principles of ethics, community participation, and inclusivity will be core themes that remain central to the Summit and follow-up initiatives.

Whether ensuring more dignified housing and settlements for displaced persons, designing urban spaces more resilient to climate change or employing art and design as a vehicle for advocacy – the possibilities for design and humanitarian collaboration are endless.

Humanitarian and design professionals are welcome to join the Design for Humanity Initiative. Sign up here to stay up to date and participate.

Media Contact
Angela Wells, IIHA Communications Officer
awells14@fordham.edu

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Older Persons: A Priority to Protect

Angela Wells / Jesuit Refugee Service

January 30, 2018, New York City – The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 proved to be one of the most devastating natural disasters of the century. For the nation’s men and women aged 65 and over, who made up nearly a quarter of its population, the disaster proved severely catastrophic. Unable to evacuate or secure shelter and under precarious health conditions, older Japanese people faced disproportionate insecurity, as reported by the Guardian.

The aftermath of the Japanese disaster brought to light the vulnerability of ageing populations affected by humanitarian crises. This unsurprising yet deeply neglected reality is one humanitarian responders struggle to address in protracted and emergency crises globally.

Around the world, older persons hold the social fabric of their communities together – especially when crisis strikes. They serve as family guardians and community leaders, advocates and teachers. They are also the first to fall through the cracks of the humanitarian safety net – with limited mobility and frail health as they struggle more than most to reach safety, rebuild their homes, and continue their lives in dignity.

While the number of older persons living in protracted or emergency crises is unknown, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has reported that by 2050 the global population of individuals over the age of sixty will more than double to comprise a quarter of the world’s population. In countries susceptible to climate change-induced disasters and conflict, older persons are sure to face greater protection risks, barriers to healthcare, and vulnerability to exploitation and abuse.

Despite this evident risk, the humanitarian infrastructure continually falters in its attempts to provide dignified response to older persons – as reported by the UN Refugee Agency. Immediately after fleeing, they are the first to be split up from their families and lose access to lifesaving medical services. As they begin to start life anew, they face age discrimination when pursuing employment opportunities, health care, and social services.

In a humanitarian sphere with competing interests and rapidly evolving crises, older populations are simply not a top priority. This leaves a huge gap in assistance and creates an environment where older persons struggle to prevail.

Furthermore, in urban areas, where more than 80 percent of the world’s displaced reside, older persons are extremely marginalized and unable to access basic services. Whether the hurricane in San Juan or conflict in Mosul, cities are increasingly becoming hubs for disaster and their older and displaced residents the most affected.

“The elderly are largely invisible in disaster preparedness programs, rescue efforts and reconstruction projects. Too often, they are the forgotten ones whom no one bothers to inform, check on or assist….Older persons are particularly at risk if they live in sub-standard or overcrowded housing, in shantytowns, or in areas with badly designed infrastructure, poor transport systems, or ineffective local leadership,” wrote Ann Pawliczko, PhD IIHA Research Fellow on Ageing in a soon-to-be-published book on urban disasters.

Fortunately, the international community has made a concerted effort to address the plight of older persons affected by crises.  In 2002, the United Nations adopted the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing which urged humanitarian responses to include older persons in project design and assessment, and to protect older individuals, especially women, from exploitation and abuse.

Fifteen years later, significant strides have been made. Non-governmental  organizations like HelpAge International and the International Rescue Committee promote the inclusion and protection of older persons amidst global crises and displacement.The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals call on the international community to leave no older person behind. Nation states have convened to form bodies like the Group of Friends of Older Persons to address their rights and needs on the UN stage.

Humanitarians are also beginning to recognize the wisdom and leadership that older persons contribute to their communities in the aftermath of crises.

“Older people are more likely to be aid givers than receivers. Their assistance to others means that supporting older people – with healthcare or income generation activities, skills training or credit – supports their families and communities. Little attention has yet been paid to how older people can be helped to fulfill such valuable roles in rebuilding communities, and recognition of their special contribution should not lead to devolution of yet more responsibilities without a corresponding increase in support,” reports HelpAge International.

Looking forward, HelpAge and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction are pursuing and promoting fourteen targets that seek to improve humanitarian response to older persons. These include involving older persons in the development of disaster and climate risk assessment, increasing access to early warning signals and information for older persons, and ensuring direct support to older persons including income support and disaster insurance.

These solutions and others will be more deeply explored by representatives of the  Permanent Mission of Japan, UNHCR, IRC, and independent experts and Fordham University at an upcoming side event of the 56th Session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development: “Humanitarian Action for Older Persons: Fifteen Years After The Madrid Plan” taking place at the United Nations Secretariat next week.

The event is being convened by the Center for International Health and Cooperation and the Institute for International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations, the Group of Friends of Older Persons (GoFOP), the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Angela Wells, IIHA Communications  Officer
Noel Langan, IIHA Communications Intern

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IIHA Begins Year With New Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow

January 24, 2018, New York City – The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs is pleased to welcome Judy Benjamin, PhD as the Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow. Dr. Benjamin comes to the Institute with more than 25 years of experience working in more than 30 countries in humanitarian response, gender, education, health and economic development.

As Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow, Dr. Benjamin will spearhead the development, management and implementation of the Institute’s academic and training programs. She will also instruct and coordinate humanitarian curriculum for undergraduate and new Master’s programs and represent the IIHA at events, symposia, and meetings on crucial humanitarian issues globally.

“I am pleased to be part of the IIHA’s mission to bring together global experts in the humanitarian field and provide state of the art approaches that seek to professionalize humanitarian work for students and experienced field workers alike,” said Dr. Benjamin.

Her experience in the humanitarian field began working with displaced populations and refugees started in refugee camps in Sudan with the Eritrean exodus from Ethiopia where she first observed the results of gender disparity in feeding practices among refugees. She has served as a gender expert and humanitarian consultant to numerous international humanitarian organizations including the World Food Programme, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, USAID, UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR and various non-governmental organizations.

Judy Benjamin also holds a doctoral degree in anthropology with a focus on international development from the University of Binghamton. She has also taught in the anthropology departments of Hunter College and Binghamton University (SUNY Binghamton) as well as a guest lecturer with the IIHA in the early formative years of the IIHA.

“We are confident that the Dr. Benjamin will continue the vision of the Institute’s founders that the multi-disciplinary field of humanitarian assistance merits greater study, requires continual assessment and response, and we all bear a responsibility to those who are vulnerable to make our response more effective and with dignity,” said Brendan Cahill, IIHA Executive Director.

The IIHA warmly welcomes Dr. Benjamin to the team as she continues the Institute’s mission of advancing the methods and framework by which humanitarian workers operate, training and educating future aid workers, and serving as a bridge between academia and humanitarian responses worldwide.

Contact Information:

Judy Benjamin, PhD
Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow
benjamin18@fordham.edu

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Milestones Testimony: Florian Razesberger

This is an abbreviated version of a testimony written by IDHA Alumnus and Tutor Florian Razesberger (IDHA 20), featured in Milestones in Humanitarian Action, available for purchase on the Fordham Press website.

When I first learned about the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA), I was advised that it was probably not for me. A friend was taking the course at the time, and she thought that with my profile and background, I should look for a different course. “After all, you are a lawyer,” she said.

I am, in fact, a lawyer by education, and my work always has had some connection to legal issues; however, I have never been content to sit in a corporate office, trading my lifetime away for money I did not need. To be reduced to the stereotype of a lawyer — tough but boring, a technical stickler, colorless in suit and humor, unscrupulous, and most importantly, greedy — annoys me to no end.

I decided to apply to the IDHA for the same reason I decided to study law a decade earlier: curiosity. Back then I had absolutely no idea what law was about, but when I applied to the IDHA, I thought I had at least some idea about humanitarian assistance. After all, the work I had done as a lawyer always related to the situations of conflict, but mostly from a legal side. Yet when I looked at the IDHA curriculum, subjects like humanitarian reform, logistics, or camp management did not tell me anything. Only on the “law day” was there some beacon of clarity within the whole program. The rest was unknown.

What I knew was the routine of everyday work. At the time, I was working on rule of law issues in Macedonia, preparing trainings on war crimes for judges and human rights workshops for young lawyers. It was time for something different. Winter was coming and November in the Balkans is a rather bleak affair. The prospect of learning about a completely foreign subject for a whole month in a place like Nairobi, with people I had never met, and who came from different fields and from different countries I had never visited, was a “no-brainer.” My boss initially suspected that all of this was a cover for a safari trip and a vacation on the Mombasa beaches, but eventually he agreed to let me go for the month. It turned out to be a different kind of safari. Someone once referred to the IDHA as a humanitarian boot camp, and there is certainly some truth to this. My colleagues in Macedonia suspected that I would be having idle fun among giraffes and white sand, but that was not the case.

To be basically locked up in a compound, which took the innocent shape of a convent run by caring nuns; to be put to work for four weeks in a row; to come up time and again with reasonable, presentable products; to take exams every Monday; to write a research paper over the weekends; and to sit in class 50 hours each week while staying up until the wee hours with colleagues in order to prepare presentation each Friday — that can be a hell of a ride. Especially when raw emotions take over, exhaustion caused by information-overload creeps in, and frustrations mount as, for some strange reason, your team members do not always agree with your opinions.

The formal education I received in the first two decades of my life differed vastly from the education I received from the IDHA. I had learned to be better than others, to measure myself against my colleagues and aspire to beat them; now, as an IDHA student, I had to learn to be a team player. Our teachers told us we would be together for every day of every week, and worst of all, that we would be graded as a group for out output, and not as individuals. Four long weeks lay ahead of me.

The IDHA was a turning point for me. As I moved to new places and tasks, I felt comfortable taking the lead in certain situations. I became an active leader, despite my insecurities, and over time I became a trainer, a public speaker, and also a manager. The IDHA syndicate work showed me how to communicate better, not only in the context of humanitarian aid, but also as a partner, a family member, and a friend.

Emotions often get the better of us, not only in situations of war and crisis, but also in our everyday lives. The IDHA taught me how important it is to respond constructively and respectfully, and even when you are pushed beyond your personal boundaries, to make rational decisions.

The course was an ideal way to test my limits, to measure myself in situations that push me out of the comfort zone and provide me with the opportunity to grow. It is only when our guard goes down, when we are tired, annoyed, bored, and irritated, that we are able to learn about sides of ourselves we never knew existed.

In the end, the IDHA is about the passionate moments, big and small: the moments in the syndicates, during fights or during jokes; the moments in the classroom, during the talks and during the breaks; the moments in the hours after class and during the sleepless nights. Those I take with me.

 

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Humanitarian Blockchain Summit: Joining Together to Shape the Future of Blockchain For Humanity

November 16, 2017, New York City  —  Blockchain technology is already driving innovation in the finance and public sectors globally. Now humanitarian and technology leaders are exploring how the technology could revolutionize humanitarian response to global complex emergencies.

This transformation was explored at the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit on November 10 hosted by the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University in partnership with the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, Center of International Humanitarian Cooperation, University of Northampton, United Nations Office of Information and Communications Technology, and Civic Hall.

More than 250 humanitarian workers, United Nations officials, governmental and public sector representatives, technology experts, and academics convened at the Summit to explore the vast potential of blockchain technology and grapple with the challenges.

Blockchain — a distributed ledger technology —  could be used to solve those challenges, such as storing identification, educational and professional qualifications of displaced persons; implementing direct cash transfer programs via cryptocurrencies; or managing contracts for migrant workers.

“Blockchain can have a role in not only serving the people endangered in these crises, perhaps in refugee camps or disaster response, but also in finding new ways that allow people to be more self-reliant, long term humanitarian projects to be more inclusive, and protection to be more central to long term humanitarian response.

As always the interest of humanitarians must go beyond the financial and fulfil the ultimate humanitarian principle of do no harm. The most essential objective we believe is to ensure transparency, data protection, and participation of beneficiaries by utilizing the blockchain through facilitating user centered design and ensuring their autonomy in the process,” said Brendan Cahill, IIHA Executive Director.

Through panels, speeches, breakout sessions, and workshops attendees discussed topics such as humanitarian financing, ethical frameworks, smart contracts, gender empowerment, and sustainable development goals (SDGs) in relation to blockchain technology.

Rahul Chandran, Director of the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation, closed the Summit with three practical actions for humanitarians and technologists:

  • Put the good energy of the Summit to use by applying the technology to concrete real world problems;
  • Manage risks by having upfront conversations about ethics and governance; and
  • Ground change and impact in evidence and open ourselves up to scrutiny.

“We need collective effort and that does not just happen spontaneously. It takes the private sector, blockchain companies, coming to governments and actually saying we want standards, we want ethical codes…It takes an exchange of ideas, because we’re still so early in this process,” said Chandran who encouraged participants to continue engagement on the subject.

Following the Blockchain Summit, the IIHA is launching the Blockchain for Humanity Initiative alongside the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, University of Northampton, and University of Groningen. The Blockchain for Humanity Initiative will provide ongoing actions for further discussion and engagement with like-minded institutions and practitioners concerning the application of blockchain technology for humanitarian action.

The first opportunities for engagement include:

The Humanitarian Blockchain Summit was made possible with the generous support of  Fordham Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Consensys and Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance.

Photos from the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

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Education in Emergencies course co-hosted with Jesuit Refugee Service

Students participate in the IIHA Education in Emergencies course in Malta (Jesuit Refugee Service)

Rabat, November 10, 2017 – With close to 30 million children living in conflict-affected countries, and hundreds of thousands of families displaced by natural disasters, education in times of crisis and conflict is fundamental to achieving the goal of universal education.

In light of the importance of quality education for individuals affected by forced displacement, the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) recently co-hosted a five-day intensive course on education in emergencies with the Jesuit Refugee Service. The course, held in Rabat, Malta from 2 to 6 October, provided participants with tools to design educational projects in emergency and post-conflict situations.

Co-directed by Gonzalo Sánchez-Terán, Deputy Humanitarian Programs Director at IIHA, and Nadezhna Castellano, JRS International Education Specialist, the course specifically emphasized the mechanisms required to improve quality of education during and after humanitarian crises.

The 24professionals and practitioners who attended the course hailed from 14 different countries worldwide. The diversity of this year’s cohort offered participants the opportunity to explore a rich and more complex vision of interventions across the globe. Along with the directors and external lecturers, participants conducted in-depth analyses of current standards and examined current and past education projects and program initiatives by leading NGOs and UN agencies.

“It is essential for JRS to not only broaden but deepen our analysis of the education sector as conflicts and emergencies are complex so that our actions are appropriate and effective. The course has helped us achieve this,” said participant Louie Bacomo, a JRS International Programmes Officer.

The course was aligned with many of the core principles of JRS’s Global Education Initiative (GEI), a campaign in which JRS has committed to raising 35 million dollars and doubling the number of people served in its education projects to more than 240,000 by the year 2020.

For displaced persons, quality education is an essential asset that JRS and IIHA will not allow to be overlooked.

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IIHA Announces New Degree Program: Master of Science in Humanitarian Studies

A World Food Organization (WFP) staff member carries a bag of rice for distribution to the victims of the tropical storm Ike, which struck Haiti in 2008. UN Photo/Logan Abassi

Become a skilled and knowledgeable humanitarian professional
Beginning fall 2018

Building on more than twenty years of training humanitarian professionals around the globe, Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are pleased to launch the first US-based Master’s degree dedicated exclusively to international humanitarian response.

With the unprecedented rise of humanitarian crises, the need to ensure collective and effective responses that meet the needs of affected communities has never been more pressing. Addressing contemporary challenges of humanitarian action requires well-trained professionals who possess multi-sector knowledge, cultural understanding, and practical skillsets.

The Master of Science in Humanitarian Studies (MSHS) will educate a new generation of humanitarian professionals to make meaningful contributions to humanitarian operations. Built on social justice values and humanitarian principles, this 30-credit interdisciplinary program will challenge students to examine critically the political, social, economic, and legal foundations of the contemporary humanitarian sector, and to master various techniques to engaging holistic and sustainable responses to protracted and rapid onset humanitarian crises.

The MSHS curriculum will train students to:

  • engage deeply in contemporary humanitarian issues, including forced migration, human rights in conflict, urban disasters, and education in crises
  • develop practical skills through unique experiential learning opportunities in New York and overseas
  • cultivate an extensive network of high-qualified graduate program alumni and practitioners
  • learn policy making and project management techniques from faculty engaged in humanitarian work and research
  • concentrate in one of three areas: Human Rights; Communities and Capacity Building; or Livelihoods and Institutions

Five-Year BA or BS/MS in Humanitarian Studies

The five-year BA or BS/MS program in Humanitarian Studies allows select Fordham University Juniors from any undergraduate major to earn both their Bachelor’s degree and the Master of Science degree in Humanitarian Studies in five years. For more information, please consult the Early Admissions web page on the GSAS website or attend our upcoming information sessions:

Rose Hill Campus: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 | Campbell Multipurpose Room | 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Lincoln Center Campus: Wednesday, November 15, 2017 | 140W Room G76A | 12 – 2:30 p.m.

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In Memory of Father Miguel d’Escoto: Spiritual Sources of Legal Creativity

November 2, 2017, New York City – A liberation theologian, a lead advocate in a David and Goliath case for international justice, and a leader in the United Nations, Father Miguel d’Escoto was one of the great champions of social justice and humanitarianism of his time.

In partnership with Fordham’s Leitner Center of International Law and Justice, the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs honored Father d’Escoto with the Inaugural Lecture, “Spiritual Sources of Legal Creativity” on Tuesday, October 25 at Fordham University. The lecture was presented by Princeton Law Professor Richard Falk with an introduction by Kevin M. Cahill, M.D. of the IIHA and a response from Fordham Law Professor Michael Flaherty of the Leitner Center.

Kevin M. Cahill, M.D. who served as Father d’Escoto’s physician and confidant for over half a century, recalled the Maryknoll priest’s “incredible ability to move from being a missionary to being a political activist and diplomat.”

Father d’Escoto, who died this past June, served as a political representative of his nation as the Nicaraguan Foreign Minister and later the world as the President of the UN General Assembly. But perhaps his most important achievement was in bringing a case in the 1980’s against the United States in the International Court of Justice. The historic verdict found the US guilty for its role in assisting insurgents to mine and blockade Nicaraguan harbors during the country’s revolution.

“The daring and creativity that Father Miguel brought to the law and to his work at the UN sprung from spiritual roots that were grounded in both religious tradition and existential faith as well as his unshakable solidarity with those among us who are poor, vulnerable, suppressed and otherwise victimized. Father Miguel’s spirituality did not primarily equate with peace but with justice,” said Professor Falk.

Through his unwavering commitment to “speak truth to power” and to act in a “spirit of love and humility”, Father d’Escoto lived out values worth remembering  in contemporary times rife with conflict, injustice, and humanitarian crisis globally.

A complete publication of the speakers’ contributions will be published by the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs in November 2017.

You can watch the first lecture commemorating his legacy here:

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Milestones Testimony: Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen

This is an abbreviated version of Ferdinand von Hasburg-Lothringen’s testimony featured in Milestones in Humanitarian Action, available for purchase on the Fordham Press website.

Many of us need a core set of values in order to anchor our lives and ourselves. I, for one, feel this profound need as I continue to provide humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa, after two decades of professional experience in Sudan and South Sudan. My experience has allowed me to witness how human beings, when faced with enormous, apparently insurmountable challenges, continue to seek a way forward; we refer to this strength of the human spirit as “resilience.” Above all, I believe that my time in the Horn of Africa has taught me to reflect upon and fairly evaluate the needs of stakeholders, partners, and recipients. Three keywords have become central to my work and my life: community, reflection, and change. These words form the very basis of our humanity, and are a call to the future and to action.

“I will call you for one minute.” No seven words have held more meaning for me than these; I first heard them on the evening of July 28, 2016, through the crackle of a poor telephone connection. Years earlier, I had met Dr. Kevin Cahill in his office on the edge of Central Park. I had come for a thorough medical examination, and as he looked me over, he asked me about my work in South Sudan. Over the course of our conversation, he revealed himself as a consummate thinker, storyteller, and professional, steeped in humility, warmth and humor.

Now, as I crawled on hands and knees across the floor of an office building, ducking under the windows to avoid a storm of bullets outside — a barrage that, I later learned, killed over 250 people — Kevin’s seven words were my lifeline to someone who cared, someone who knew what I had experienced. Over the course of those four terrifying days, his daily “one minute” phone call reassured me that despite the distance, despite terrible situations and impossible commitments, human beings will persist in reaching out, in building connections, in recognizing the extraordinary gifts of others. This persistence is, in my view, the antidote to cynicism, impatience, and selfishness.

Kevin’s next call found me on the floor of the Comboni Missionaries in Juba, trapped by a second volley of gunfire. I was with half a dozen other international missionaries, and all of us lay facedown on the floor as more machine gun rounds, tank shells, and rocket-propelled grenades crisscrossed our compound–this time apparently in a celebratory mood. The minute was an hour, his words–whatever he said, I cannot recall now–were comfort and solidarity, filling my bruised and bewildered body with hope. Even after he ended the call, that “one minute” continue to comfort me, to reassure me that I was alive and loved, no matter what happened tomorrow. Kevin’s call, and the calls I received from his son, Brendan, and from family and friends, taught me that there is no replacement for love, support, and true friendship.

In the winter of 2002, I returned to my hometown, Geneva, as a stranger in a familiar land. I had entered into a new phase of my life: still lacking in confidence in my skills as a humanitarian, and shaken by the raw violence I saw while stationed in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, I arrived at IDHA 9. Unbeknownst to me, this would become a defining moment in my life. Not only did I walk away from the IDHA with the professional skills and tools I needed, but I also formed friendships with people who spoke the “aid language,” and who approached their work with spirit, enthusiasm, and genuine curiosity. Surrounded by so many like-minded people, I thought I had joined the IDHA in an exceptionally vintage year, or else the course had filled some niche in the humanitarian community. Friendships bloomed and strategies developed–bonds that, in many cases, remain unbreakable, connecting us across borders and oceans, coming together and forming actions, studies, shared analyses, and reunions in the most unexpected of places.

There was a deep-seated sense of respect and community, reinforced through the kind of honest, open reflection that inspires confidence, in spite of our faults and fears of inadequacy. I thought perhaps I had lucked into IDHA 9, but as I pursued the MIHA–attending courses in Barcelona, New York, and Berlin, all at times of my choosing, thanks to the flexibility of the program–I came to realize that Fordham and the IIHA had tapped into a critical need in the humanitarian world, and had met that need head-on, with innovation and first-call staff and support teams. When I arrived in Geneva for IDHA 9, I immediately felt at home.For many of us, it was the first time we had been afforded a chance to think about our personal experiences within the international framework, and to consider the experiences of others support and encouragement–an educational approach that held value for both students and tutors.

As an IDHA alumnus, I have a responsibility to develop this new philosophy and answer the hard questions. I now have the ability to look honestly at my life and my choices; to avoid the generalizations, the preferred political narratives, and the simplifications that stymy our efforts. The IDHA, above all, allows its students to think creatively in a field that adheres to tradition and often refuses change. In the end, the hours of reading and reflection created a space in my mind where I can question and challenge, and find myself anew.

Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen

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Beyond the Hype: Blockchain for Humanity

Photo credit: UNHCR

 

This article was originally published on Tech’s Good.

October 27, 2017, New York City – Imagine a world where humanitarian aid can reach people affected by crises exponentially faster, where refugees can store their health, education and identification in an uncorrupted system, and where migrant workers can have safer working conditions through smart contracts. This is the world blockchain technologists and humanitarians envision — one with more sustainable and dignified responses to humanitarian crises.

Blockchain technology offers the humanitarian world a more direct option for information and currency transmission during emergencies with increased speed, traceability, and safety. This innovation has a promising future in humanitarian work, but not without possible challenges and risks.

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA)’s Blockchain for Humanity initiative aims to promote cross-sector partnership to explore blockchain-based solutions for better policies in the humanitarian sector. Our upcoming Humanitarian Blockchain Summit will gather humanitarians, technology experts, scholars and social innovators to discuss the dynamic future of blockchain for relief efforts.

Beyond the Hype

But what is blockchain and what is behind all the hype?

Many people are familiar with blockchain-hosted crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin or blockchain softwares such as Hyperledger and Ethereum, but few know about the many potential applications of or technical details behind the technology. Collin Thompson of Intrepid Ventures does an excellent job of hashing out the system’s intricacies in a 2016 Medium series.

This video produced by The Guardian also highlights the inner workings of Bitcoin, one of the first forms of cryptocurrency on a blockchain.

The most crucial element of the technology is that every transaction on a block incorporates a previous block, forming a chain of blocks (hence the term blockchain). This feature makes the blockchain highly secure and very difficult to hack. It also allows for the instant transfer of funds or information without the need for an intermediary, like banking services or currency exchanges. This makes the transaction of currencies or information more efficient, affordable, and secure.

The Humanitarian Revolution

In humanitarian contexts, cryptocurrencies can enhance financial inclusion, ensure remittances are more accessible across borders, and facilitate immediate payment for lifesaving aid. For example, Bitnation, a humanitarian agency in Europe, allows donations to reach refugees through Bitcoin. Each donation is directly credited to a refugee’s debit card allowing them to withdraw cash without dealing with banks, that are often restrictive.

Humanitarian organizations are justifiably interested in other ways blockchain could enable more efficient humanitarian action and transparent aid delivery. If done with collaboration, ethics, and ingenuity, blockchain can revolutionize humanitarian response. Some agencies are leading the way:

ID2020 and Microsoft are creating a system allowing people to register their identity documents on a blockchain database. This project aims to to provide digital IDs to millions of undocumented or stateless people who lack access to basic government and financial services. This could have a life-saving impact for crisis-affected people, who frequently struggle to begin their lives anew without proper identification.

Aid:Tech in Lebanon provides e-vouchers on a blockchain to Syrian refugees in camps, allowing them to purchase goods in a localized refugee-economy and increasing the likelihood for self-reliance in the camp.

Handshake is designing a system for fair and legal labor contracts for international migrant workers, in an effort to minimize the prevalence of exploitation and insecurity while ensuring human rights and fair wages for work.

Governments have started to implement this technology in their own programs, storing information on the blockchain. Some examples include the management and organization of:

Additionally, blockchain has the capacity to ensure more secure delivery of lifesaving supplies through supply chain tracking, more transparent procurement of aid, more impactful humanitarian financing through impact bonds, and safer protection mechanisms through data encryption.

Tech for Good, Never Harm

Needless to say, the potential for blockchain as a tool for social change is overwhelming. However, so are the possible complications and challenges that may arise in using the technology within marginalized communities. Critical reflection and examination is essential if we are to ensure the technology serves the needs of the people before interests of companies and the questions are many, including:

  • If the data transacted on the blockchain is immutable, do people have the right or the ability to remove themselves from a blockchain system?
  • How can private and sensitive information (such as ethnicity, religion, gender, or other identification types) be left out of the hands of people who may intend to do harm?
  • In case of breach or abuse, what jurisdiction applies and who is accountable to ensuring data privacy?
  • How can crisis-affected populations have agency in interacting on the blockchain?
  • What measures or ethical standards could be put in place to ensure that vulnerable people fully understand the technology, and potential consequences of their interaction with it?

The blockchain, as a cross-border network, is not yet regulated by international or national laws. As long as data is managed on a global decentralized network, the protection and security concerns are numerous — especially in places with more autocratic governments, less corporate regulation, and populations already in peril.

Zara Rahman, fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, pointedly exemplified the protection risks of data registration currently facing Rohingya refugees. Modern-day crises, especially those fueled by ethnic violence, should compel humanitarians to employ technological interventions with the utmost caution.

By collecting evidence, piloting projects, sharing information, and analyzing the true impact of blockchain projects, we can begin to safely and effectively address these questions and outline new ethical standards to guide the use of technology in crisis. By staying true to the humanitarian principle to “do no harm” above all other objectives, we believe the humanitarian community can reach new heights with blockchain while simultaneously protecting those most vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and suffering amidst crises.

Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

The IIHA’s upcoming Humanitarian Blockchain Summit at Fordham University in New York City aims to spark a conversation about the potential for blockchain and humanitarian impact while keeping these ethical concerns at the forefront. The summit will allow humanitarian organizations to present the process, outcome and challenges of pilot blockchain projects while also providing space for dialogue among humanitarian and technology experts on future scalability and challenges.

Ultimately, we hope the Summit will be more than an exchange of ideas, but the start of an ongoing process for the development of a complete policy framework based on concrete results and with direct applicability to the humanitarian sector.

Some of the many partners coming to the table include the United Nations Office of Information and Communications Technology (UNOICT), the Centre for Innovation at Leiden UniversityCivic HallConsensysID2020HandshakeUnited Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations WomenCentre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance, and World Identity Network, among others.

Blockchain technology provides an opportunity to an interconnected world to truly incite systemic change that may not only increase the impact of humanitarian response, but perhaps lessen the severity and likelihood of crises in the first place. Creating policies, collaborating across sectors and interests, and prioritizing humanitarian ethics and principles is essential for ensuring blockchain truly serves humanity.

Registration for the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit at Fordham University in New York City is now open.

Lara Lopis, IIHA Innovation Intern, Master’s student in Science and Technology Policy — University of Sussex 2018

Angela Wells, Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Communications Officer, awells14@fordham.edu

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