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Practitioner Profile: Naomi Gikonyo – Recent Graduate of the IIHA Master’s in International Humanitarian Action

Naomi Gikonyo ensured refugees accessed food rations in Maban, South Sudan.

 

Naomi Gikonyo has designed emergency response interventions amidst humanitarian crises around the world – from Kenya to South Sudan, Haiti to Libya – for nearly a decade. Currently she works as an Emergency Preparedness and Response Officer for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). This month she also graduates with a Master’s Degree in International Humanitarian Action (MIHA) through the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) at Fordham University.

Here she reflects on her vast experiences in the humanitarian sector.

How did you get started in the humanitarian field?

Like many people in the humanitarian field, it was purely coincidental. I first began to intern with International Medical Corps (IMC) and as a result, I ended up working with them for almost eight years in a variety of areas including finance, logistics, and then finally programs.

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

I enjoy working in the humanitarian field to contribute to something larger than myself. Each emergency is different so it is difficult to specifically say which is my greatest accomplishment, but I have participated or led several emergency responses in relatively difficult contexts.

I have been deployed at the height of emergencies to set up operations from scratch, and I have bonded and worked with individuals from all different walks of life, which I am proud of. It is humbling to be able to offer assistance to people who are vulnerable and looking to you to provide support in their time of need. This is what drives me.

The most fulfilling mission I have ever had is working in South Sudan. It is a difficult country to work in, but overall each of the missions is different and I do not categorize them as one being better than the other. Each experience is important to me in a variety of ways. It is more the people you work with – this is what is crucial in this line of work.

What is the most difficult experience you have had?

At the height of an emergency there is a great deal of pressure, usually in life or death situations. The most difficult task for me was setting up operations in South Sudan right after the conflict began at the end of 2013. It is a particularly difficult country to work in, not only in terms of access, but security as well. This includes harsh working conditions in the middle of nowhere without any of the resources you usually take for granted. It is basically you, your team, limited supplies, and one vehicle. Essentially you have to hit the ground running. Setting up operations, with heightened tensions, along with limited resources is always a challenge.

In addition to being a student, you served as a tutor during last year’s International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) course in New York. What were some of your main take-aways from this experience?  

It is fascinating coming back as a tutor after being a student. The IDHA is a very enriching course for most people, because students and lecturers come together to cross-pollinate ideas. It is a mid-career course where all of the participants have significant (humanitarian) field experience or some experience in other sectors. It is therefore a very interactive environment. The students learn as much from the faculty and lecturers as they do from themselves. They build networks for life with people from different perspectives and different backgrounds. There are 40 people from 29 different countries who participated in IDHA 48 and as a result there is a lot of diversity and perspective in the group. I experienced this as a student as well and I am still in touch with most of my classmates from IDHA 29, seven years later. It is definitely one of the more interesting courses offered at Fordham and in the humanitarian sector.

What was your favorite part of IDHA 48?

I find the case studies very interesting. I also enjoyed the guest lecturers. It was interesting to get perspectives from different areas of work that I did not have previous exposure to, such as the Ebola response or the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, which I found fascinating. I also enjoyed reflecting and gaining new perspectives about contexts I have worked in. It is hard to pick one highlight, but what I find most useful in the course is being able to listen to and reflect upon so many different perspectives. I also met some colleagues from WFP in the course and it was interesting to interact with them and hear their various experiences from the field.

What is one of the strengths of the IDHA course?

A strength of the course is that it is very adaptive. It is not rigid, but rather quite fluid. A lot of content shared on IDHA 48 is very different from when I was a student. When the faculty and students bring their current experience to the course, the content changes accordingly because of the knowledge in the room. It is nice to see the evolution of this sharing and learning.

What are largest challenges in humanitarian work today?

A lot of people say it is issues of access or funds, but I would say the level of complexity of the problems that we are dealing with is so great that the system has not necessarily been able to evolve as quickly in order to properly address these needs. We are struggling to adapt as fast. The game has changed but the players have remained the same, whether this be the scope of migration issues or politicization of aid. In general, these issues have intensified, but the humanitarian architecture has stayed the same. There have been attempts to evolve or adapt but they have not been sufficient enough to match the level of complexity we are dealing with. It remains a fundamental challenge to the system overall if we are to deal with future issues.

 

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Humanitarian Innovation Rooted in Local Context

New York City, May 5, 2017 – From mobile cash transfers to drones, solar-powered water pump to prosthetic limbs, the democratization of technology has the possibility to revolutionize humanitarian response.

International organizations have recently forged the way for such innovative ventures by joining forces with tech companies from the private sector, piloting new and impressive solutions that can save lives during emergencies, and supporting visionary ideas for the future of humanitarianism. Many of these efforts, however, are unknown to the general public, and have rarely trickled down to local communities confronting humanitarian challenges.

Instead, what if local organizations and leaders on the ground – churches, schools, and community based organizations – were prepared to use, adapt, and design impactful technologies for disaster response? What if the humanitarian sector embraced risk, and possibly failure, as a modus operandi in order to develop the most refined and contextual solutions possible? What if private companies used humanitarian indicators to measure the impact of their engagement with local communities? Can we imagine a future where existing technologies are not just used, but actually introduced by local communities to save lives?

These questions are at the core of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Innovation Hub (IIHA InnoHub), recently launched by IIHA Humanitarian Innovation Fellow and founder of High Tech Humanitarians, Giulio Coppi.

“(In development) it’s considered impossible to start a project without a community-based strategy behind it, while in the humanitarian sector it’s still considered normal by some actors to arrive, bring your solution, turn your back, and be gone leaving nothing behind you. We are trying to move away from this,” Giulio said in a recent Terms of Reference Podcast by Aidpreneur.

Open source potential. Giulio first realized the glaring gap in innovation for humanitarian action while working in Afghanistan and Cote D’Ivoire where he monitored the security situation for his teams using common tools like Twitter or by creating his own dynamic maps to track the movement of people and conflicts. Relying on these very basic information structures while knowing more effective options existed on the open source market was frustrating at best.

“There is a need for open source solutions to the current problems affecting humanity…This is important because in most patents or licenses are either too expensive or are not protecting technology.  Local markets are either not interesting for logistic distributors…or the items are just out of reach for most organizations and communities in the field.”

The IIHA InnoHub and High Tech Humanitarians seek to fill this gap by congregating as many open source technological tools as possible, adapting them to humanitarian contexts, and sharing them with diverse humanitarian actors through an online “toolbox.”

To be included in the toolbox, the technologies must be open source, ethically in line with humanitarian principles, and adapted for humanitarian action. They could include software, 3D printing, prosthetic manufacturing, excavators, water pumps, drones, or even small satellites.

“Each tool you find in the toolbox has its own history, its own community, its own people who believed in this idea and brought it forward. Some of these communities are still supporting the tools so you can get in touch and ask them for support. Some of those aren’t so they’ll need you to engage with the tool and find people to modify, adapt, and evolve it.”

Local solutions is the future. The World Humanitarian Summit, Giulio said, was an indicator that the sector is moving toward more innovation-centered response, but there is a long way to go until innovation is embraced as priority in the sector and reaches local communities best placed to utilize them.

“There is a need for localizing innovation processes instead of centralizing them…to provide local organizations and local humanitarian actors…with the tools.”

The IIHA InnoHub hopes to help bridge this gap by involving crisis-affected communities in the development of technological tools that mitigate complex emergency situations.

“We don’t need a perfect product. We need to empower communities and humanitarians to be contributors, to be those who provide the solution.”

In addition to sponsoring research on this topic, the IIHA InnoHub will conduct trainings and workshops on innovation for humanitarian action.

The first IIHA InnoHub course in Data and Innovation Management in Humanitarian Action will be offered  from July 6 to 10 in New York City.

To learn more follow us on Twitter at @iiha_fordham

Angela Wells, IIHA Communications Officer

 

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Devex report emphasizes importance of higher education for humanitarian professionals

Devex Report, Make Your Mark, emphasizes importance of higher education for humanitarian professionals

Higher education is becoming an increasingly essential step for career advancement in international development and humanitarian fields. In their recent report, Make Your Mark, Devex identified growing humanitarian sector demands to be a key driver for specialist higher education programs.

“With emergency response needs around the world growing, international development graduate programs are increasingly focused on humanitarian education and training that can prepare students for careers with first responders, international organizations and INGOs operating on the front lines,” says the report.

This is especially true for professionals responding to medical epidemics and natural disasters.

“Responding to and recovering from a wide-range of health emergency situations, such as the Ebola outbreak, Zika scare, famines, typhoons and earthquakes, requires cadres of qualified and diversified health professionals across all segments of the development community.

Of those surveyed, 91 percent of recent graduates of Master’s degree programs in the global development sector believe their graduate studies were a worthy investment of their time and money.

Coupled with tangible experience, a Master’s degree can open up doors for humanitarians that would otherwise remain closed. A Master’s in International Humanitarian Action (MIHA) offered by the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs is a key to this door.

The MIHA program challenges mid-career level humanitarian workers to devise solutions alongside like-minded practitioners from around the world. Grounded in values of social justice, the Master’s program emboldens students to put the innovative approaches they study in the classroom to practice in their own careers.

Courses are designed to accommodate the hectic schedule and work patterns of humanitarian workers. They are offered throughout the year at varying locations around the world. Whether in Barcelona or Addis Ababa, Geneva or Kathmandu – we reach diverse professionals in their contexts.

Humanitarian workers can also choose to enroll in a one-month International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance or shorter individual specialized courses on issues ranging from mental health or education in emergencies to strategic issues in humanitarian response to forced migration and human rights, among others.

Visit our website for more information on how to apply for a Master of Arts in International Humanitarian Action or other higher education opportunities through the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs.

Devex is “a media platform for the global development community and a social enterprise working to make the $200 billion aid and development industry do more good for more people.”

For more advice on higher education in the humanitarian and development field, download Devex’s special report.  

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Vote for GlobalMedic to Help Save Lives!

GlobalMedic is in the running to win $750,000 through Google’s Impact Challenge! The Impact Challenge rewards technological innovations that impact social problems. GlobalMedic would use the award to lead their innovative RescUAV program — using drones and other UAV technology to support communities affected by disaster around the world. 


Better information is needed to help rescuers save lives. GlobalMedic’s RescUAV program is using innovative drone technology to provide this information.

Through UAV technology, they are able to make aid delivery and monitoring more efficient.
 They provide search and rescue, situational awareness, emergency mapping and aid delivery.

CLICK HERE to vote!

 Andrew Seger, IIHA Communications Intern

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IIHA Executive Director Named to Editorial Board of the Journal of International Humanitarian Action


New York, NY – March 6, 2017 – Brendan Cahill, Executive Director of Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs has been named to the editorial board of the
Journal of International Humanitarian Action, a peer-review journal published by the Network on Humanitarian Action (NOHA).

The IIHA has partnered with NOHA for years, often providing education and academic support to their European-based students at Fordham University. Mr. Cahill is enthusiastic to deepen the Institute’s academic partnership with NOHA by championing this essential tool for a community of humanitarian academics.

The Journal is a wonderful initiative, and highlights the role academia can and must play in regards to humanitarian action. The Journal is a natural outlet for our scholars, and another axis point between academia and the humanitarian sector which will complement our International Humanitarian Affairs Book Series from Fordham University Press and our education programs.

As the IIHA focuses more on multilevel education together with research and publications, the Journal allows for greater interaction with a global network of scholars and practitioners. The Institute is growing because it remains constantly innovative, and seeks to remain relevant in the training of next generations of aid professionals,” said Mr. Cahill.

The IIHA looks forward to being an integral part of NOHA’s community of thought leaders by contributing to critical analysis and research that seeks to highlight contemporary challenges and ultimately improve humanitarian response around the world.

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Fighting Ebola with Information

What can be learned from the use of data, information, and digital technologies, such as mobile-based systems and internet connectivity, during the Ebola outbreak response in West Africa? What worked, what didn’t, and how can we apply these lessons to improve data and information flows in the future?

When the Ebola outbreak hit West Africa in late 2013, the world was caught unprepared. The consequence: over 30,000 Ebola cases, including more than 11,000 dead, and billions of dollars lost across the global system.
In response to the outbreak, USAID joined with communities, governments, and organizations to help affected countries control and, ultimately, contain the disease. As part of celebrating this hard won achievement, the international community must reflect, learn, and act based on this experience to help ensure such a tragedy is not repeated.

This report is a contribution to that end. It focuses on one aspect of the multi-faceted response: the role of data and digital technologies. Grounded in over 130 interviews and peer review, the report surfaces a breadth of experiences and perspectives, and concludes with practical recommendations that health, humanitarian, and development actors should take to be better prepared for the next crisis.

Information was critical to the fight against Ebola. Both for responders, who needed detailed and timely data about the disease’s spread, and for communities, who needed access to trusted and truthful information with which they could protect themselves and their loved ones. Yet, as we now know all too clearly, the technical, institutional, and human systems required to rapidly gather, transmit, analyze, use, and share Ebola-related data frequently were not sophisticated or robust enough to support the response in a timely manner.

We must strengthen these systems. This is essential both to keep pace with diseases that spread with the ferocity and velocity of Ebola, and to be more resilient in the face of future threats.

Although the focus of this report is the need for strengthened capacity, systems, and use of data, we recognize that this alone is not sufficient. Our hope is that these recommendations are incorporated alongside new knowledge of effective public health interventions, preparedness, and priorities for health system strengthening. Ultimately, our willingness to engage these challenges–on a daily basis and within public health systems–will be the best predicator of our success in stopping similar events.

Let us learn from and act upon these lessons to do justice both to those directly affected by Ebola, and to the efforts that ultimately brought to heel one of the most significant health and humanitarian crises of the early 21st century.

This is the Foreword from the new USAID report, Fighting Ebola with Information: Lessons from the Use of Data, Information, and Digital Technologies in the West African Ebola Outbreak Response. The report details key findings and recommendations about the collection, management, analysis, and use of data and information in countering the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 and 2015. It reveals common sources of the confusing data picture, particularly in the early days of the response and examines the use of digital technologies to support data and information flows, considering both common barriers and insights from what worked. 

The report was co-authored by Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Research Fellow Larissa Fast. Dr. Fast is a Fulbright-Schuman Research Scholar at Uppsala University’s Department of Peace and Conflict Research. Her current research compares the practices of data collection and use on the part of scholars and practitioners, focusing specifically on data collected by and about peacekeepers and aid workers. She is also the author of Aid in Danger: The Promise and Perils of Humanitarian Action.

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IIHA stands in solidarity with refugees

As humanitarian disasters rise in scale and severity around the world, an unprecedented number of people have become forcibly displaced from their homes. As humanitarians, we recognize that our shared responsibility to the plight of  refugees and immigrants does not end in camps or at the onset of disaster, but rather extends into our own communities and with our own neighbors. Today, more than ever, we are presented with this call to bear witness.

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs and the Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation have a long standing tradition of training men and women around the world to effectively participate in answering this challenge.  Our educational approach has been, for twenty years, remarkably consistent: by learning from and knowing one another, we become better humanitarian professionals. Consequently, we are able to provide aid to those affected by crises with intelligence, flexibility, and dignity.  That celebration of other cultures and viewpoints has been a hallmark of every course we offer – whether to humanitarian professionals or undergraduate students.

Grounded in values of social justice and inclusivity, we are in full solidarity with our students and alumni from all around the world as well as the millions of refugees and migrants whom they serve – regardless of religion, nationality or immigration status.

In one week we will begin our 49th IDHA course, this time  in Kathmandu, followed by courses in Barcelona, Vienna, Cali, New York, and Amman. We will continue to cooperate with other academic and non-academic partners, and especially our family of alumni, to offer assistance to those who most need it. We look forward, as an independent Center and as an academic Institute, to preserving the rights of all, and the championing of a better world.

Kevin M. Cahill, M.D., President, CIHC; University Professor, IIHA
Brendan Cahill, Executive Director, IIHA
Larry Hollingworth, C.B.E., Humanitarian Programs Director, CIHC

Photo credit: Andrew Leger, IIHA Communications Intern

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