Tag Archives: World Humanitarian Summit (WHS)

Humanitarian Newsletter: July 14, 2016

Read the latest IIHA Newsletter for an update on the 2016 Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) Annual Meeting at Fordham University in New York, news about the recent honors awarded to CIHC President and IIHA Founder Kevin M. Cahill, M.D., our World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) Round-up, and our monthly Humanitarian Innovation Corner. This edition also includes humanitarian news, events, and opportunities, and features the reunions, publications, articles, and accomplishments of our incredible alumni!

This will be the last IIHA Newsletter of the summer semester. The Newsletter will resume publication in September. For the latest news, events, and opportunities, follow our blog and our Facebook and Twitter platforms. Have a great summer!

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Humanitarian Innovation Corner – June 2016

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IIHA Innovation was present at the Innovation Marketplace of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to participate as founding members in the launch of the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation (GAHI) and to witness the opening of the Global Humanitarian Lab (GHL).

After several delays, the humanitarian community is finally going big on innovation: GAHI is more focused on developing consistent and more effective policies and standards for improving humanitarian action, innovating humanitarian technologies in a systematic way; the Global Humanitarian Lab (GHL) is more concentrated on unleashing innovation worldwide, creating a global network of makers and innovators that could produce local humanitarian tools and solutions that could be used to facilitate responses by humanitarian actors. IIHA, through its own Innovation initiatives, will be an active member of the GAHI, while exploring potential cooperation with the GHL for the future.

In the aftermath of the WHS, IIHA was invited by the IPI to take part in a Q&A on the takeaways form the summit, and featured a contribution by the Institute’s very own Humanitarian Innovation Fellow, Giulio Coppi, on the IIHA blog, which includes more in-depth analysis on some measures proposed in Istanbul, and their complicated application to conflict-related situations. More recently, IIHA Innovation was also selected to present its activities and projects including the High Tech Humanitarians (HTH) initiative during the Humanitarian Technology Conference in Boston, where, alongside representatives from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, OCHA and Microsoft, Giulio took part as a plenary speaker in a session dedicated to the post-WHS humanitarian innovation landscape.

The next events for IIHA Innovation include the plenary session of the 2016 Academic Council of the United Nations System (ACUNS) Annual Meeting in New York, and a special session at the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) dedicated to the importance of humanitarian technology, that will take place on the 27th of June in cooperation with the American Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

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Giulio Coppi Reflects on WHS: “A good Humanitarian Summit, but for peacetime”

The High-Level Leaders’ Roundtable on “Changing People’s Lives: From Delivering Aid to Ending Need” at the World Humanitarian summit in Istanbul

The High-Level Leaders’ Roundtable on “Changing People’s Lives: From Delivering Aid to Ending Need” at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (CC BY-ND, WHS)

Those of you at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) who were brave (or lucky) enough to make your way from the plenary building to the side events area, and through a maze of tunnels to the Exhibition Fair to then defy four flights of stairs up to the Innovation Marketplace, may probably have already met me. As Humanitarian Innovation Fellow at the IIHA and Manager of the High Tech Humanitarians project, I had the pleasure and privilege to participate in the WHS in Istanbul last week to present our activities and take part in the launch of the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation (GAHI), of which IIHA is a founding member.

Many well-qualified and well-credentialed attendees have already produced a broad spectrum of opinions on the takeaways from the WHS. Their conclusions range from the downright critical, to the relieved, to the mildly enthusiastic, but there are still a few conclusions worth noting.

War, more so than the G7, was the biggest absence at the WHS. 

Apart from a few blessed events dedicated to specific categories of vulnerable populations, the theme ‘protection of civilians in times of armed conflict’ was barely visible in the overall agenda. Discussions in this sense remained vague, and were mostly limited to recalling what is already well rooted in international law. Considering that around 80 percent of the humanitarian crises are due to conflicts, this basically means that for two days the humanitarian community discussed how to improve about 20 percent of its work.

Some could object that I’m being provocative – that, even without explicit mention of “times of armed conflict,” assistance as discussed also applies to situations of armed conflict – and they would be right. However, the reality is that some of the key measures finalized at the WHS as final global commitments to reform humanitarian assistance often do not apply in times of violence.

This is the case, for example, for cash programming and localisation. In times of conflict, the localisation of humanitarian assistance would be far from easy. Even those local NGOs who are not impeded from receiving international funds and grants for having ties with an armed or political faction very rarely have the capacity to absorb, manage, use and report on funds that, in order to be effective, easily reach the five to six digit range.

This is of course not the fault of local actors. As noted in a recent report, funding strategies are often the main threat to humanitarian neutrality, impartiality and independence, as donors discourage programming in opposition-held territories, or in areas out of government control, leading to a de facto politicization of humanitarian response.

Refusing to fund overheads to local NGOs, donors can potentially curtail the sustainability of programs and undermine future development. This is especially true considering that in situations of armed conflict, local capacity is put under considerable strain as organizations and their staff try to face a dangerous crisis while having to balance their altruism with the need to ensure their own safety and that of their families.

While the WHS closed with a commitment for less paperwork and bureaucracy and more direct access to funding, these issues were not addressed in any concrete way, and the feeling is that donors will continue deciding on a case-by-case basis, mostly according to their own existing regulations and agendas.

Finally, it is broadly agreed that the attention-grabbing figure of only 0.2 to 1.6 percent of humanitarian aid going directly to local groups is misleading, to say the least. There is a reason why we constantly praise the role of local actors, and lament the shrinking access of international humanitarian agencies and INGOs: National NGOs deliver most of the assistance and thus manage a relevant part of the resources.

Humanitarian aid is much more than its monetary value. If it were just about the monetary value, then the humanitarian assistance decision-making process would be limited to fundraising, procurement and warehouse logistic phases. However, the networking, access, distribution and M&E processes are just as valuable as the rest: covering the last mile doesn’t necessarily mean being in a subsidiary position compared to those applying for grants.

Focusing on promoting partnership models that ensure increased participation of local partners in strategic humanitarian planning – and limiting the abused practice of sub-contracting – rather than enforcing arbitrary quotas in direct funding, could probably better ensure that INGOs and humanitarian agencies, with all their well-known bureaucracy and malfunctioning, will guarantee, monitor and protect their operations without bossing around local partners.

As for the massive switch to cash programming, humanitarians know better than anyone else that giving money to local actors and civilians who are on the front lines of widespread violence often means exposing them to increased risks, with little to zero hope for them to be able to use that money at all. According to some figures, offering people affected by crises cash instead of goods or services would be feasible in as many as 70 to 80 percent of all humanitarian contexts. The studies that I know of surely prove the need to increase the amount of cash transfers and assess their theoretical feasibility, but don’t perform a conflict-specific analysis to scientifically prove that the cash system is the best option in such an overwhelming amount of cases.

Very often where violence reigns, money has a much higher value for armed actors, who still have access to surviving markets, than it does for local populations. It is true that in some cases direct cash to households has shown a positive trend in decreasing involvement of civilians in hostilities, but further studies also prove an increase in the number of conflict-related casualties in the receiving community. Also, this system risks encroaching on the neutrality of humanitarian assistance, as it mainly relies on institutional channels which make it difficult or dangerous for communities in areas not under government control to receive the money. Another reason for concern is the fact that conflict crises are more and more protracted in time, with refugee camps existing for decades and violence erupting regularly for many years. There is a risk, which in some cases has already occurred, of humanitarians adopting a “shadow government” role delivering guaranteed minimum income-style aid – and eventually supporting non-cash assistance and related services – for unpredictable stretches of time.

These were among the reasons why, many years ago, cash programming in conflict areas was progressively abandoned in favor of other forms of assistance. This is also the reason why, now, figures for cash-based assistance are so low in humanitarian action: with 80 percent of current humanitarian crises being conflict situations, the use of cash is still extremely sensitive.

The move towards an increased use of cash-based solutions would be a wise one, especially considering that most of the emerging or low-resource economies are already pioneering forms of remote, digital or mobile payments for daily use, leapfrogging from traditional paper money to cryptocurrencies and paperless distributed systems. However, approaching this issue from the dogmatic perspective of imposing quotas to be fulfilled, means not only denying that the shortages of food and basic items as well as the collapse of market services and retail infrastructures are part of the common paradigm to most conflict contexts, but also that most of the current architecture of the humanitarian system is not yet prepared to deliver cash in the face of armed actors.

Rather than setting unattainable quotas to be reached in an arbitrary time-frame, it would be more feasible and realistic for the humanitarian community to commit to dedicating an appropriate amount of internal funds and resources to create global, measurable and standardized procedures to effectively use cash-based methods in war contexts, without increasing vulnerabilities or affecting local markets. A collective push to incorporate cash as a regular tool of response would also have the positive effect of shifting the language of cash transfers from “innovation” – a reference which almost allows cash interventions to remain in pilot phase or at a very small scale – to “standardization”, which would allow humanitarian actors, academic institutions and donors to evaluate the real impact of these measures in a transparent, comparative and evidence-based manner.

So, did the WHS get it all wrong? Was it a smokescreen with red herrings for outcomes?

Absolutely not, at least in my opinion. As I said recently in an interview with the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory, the WHS did what had to be done, in the given conditions: the humanitarian system may not be broke nor broken, but it surely needs a thorough revision. At the Summit, the humanitarian actors completed a long-overdue first step moving from soul-searching to re-shaping.

Some new actors emerged (new to the international conference scene, not to the field), especially from regions not traditionally known for exporting INGOs, while established actors agreed on the re-definition of operational boundaries among national and international NGOs, and on the need to update and improve humanitarian strategies.

The Grand Bargain addresses most of these issues, and promises to clear the table from some of the absurd earmarking and funding restrictions faced by potential implementing actors. All this had to be done, and as a result, the humanitarian system emerges stronger from this display of (almost) unity.

Many chastised the absence of the most important states, fearing the lack of engagement and commitment could anticipate a gap in political positioning. This fear seems superfluous: Indeed, states’ lack of engagement is by itself a political move. Refusing to engage in discussions about a stronger commitment to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), first at the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and then at the WHS, the international political structure is detaching itself from the humanitarian consequences of its actions.

The message is clear: a stronger and modern humanitarian system is welcome, as long as it doesn’t interfere with military and tactical priorities. As long as it keeps out of the war business, and keeps focusing only on doing its best to solace the victims, all is in order. But this system is not sustainable, nor just. As it has been said, one of the few conclusions that attracted broad consensus is that humanitarian problems can’t be solved only by assisting people and throwing money at problems.

Whatever will come after the WHS (implementing and follow-up mechanisms were not announced, which raised even more skepticism), the humanitarian system must prove itself able to reach real unity and demand to bring conflicts (and their victims) back to the center of the discussion.

Providing direct support to local actors is impossible if they are either identified as partial, or barred from receiving funds for political reasons under the blanket pretext of very loose anti-corruption, anti-terrorism and anti-violent extremism blacklists. National organizations cannot effectively implement relief operations if their staff is forced to flee with the civilian population because of the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and aid workers. Delivering cash is counterproductive and harmful if armed actors don’t respect the obligation to spare civilians and their belongings. The international NGOs and humanitarian agencies can and must reform their procedures to leave more space to local actors, but they all need an environment conducive to delivering and providing humanitarian assistance in order to operate together in harmony.

It has been said that for states, the alternative to respecting the rules of war is to pay the price. The humanitarian system still has the chance to rally and demand that the real final price isn’t paid by their staff and the civilian population. It is a good opportunity for the freshly motivated humanitarian world to cluster around the points proposed before and after the WHS, and lobby for a more positive discussions in the next international conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in 2017. Everyone will gain from a stronger IHL, be they national or international actors.

PS: If you just discovered reading this post that what you thought was the Innovation Marketplace was actually the Exhibition Fair and that there was a whole world just above your head and you missed it, you’re not alone. Realizing the limbo we were stuck in, with the innovation crowd decided to turn to Twitter to voice our cry for attention and visibility.

 

Photo of the Author

Giulio Coppi has more than 8 years of humanitarian professional experience managing operations in South America, West and Central Africa, South and Central Asia. He earned his BA, MA and MAS in International Law with a specialization on Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in conflict. In his career, Giulio has cooperated with NGOs, Universities, the UN, the OECD and the ICRC. At the IIHA, Giulio oversees the Humanitarian Innovation program of the Institute, with a special focus on Open Source technology and community-based approaches, manages the joint initiative High Tech Humanitarians (HTH), and is IIHA’s focal point to the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation launched during the WHS in Istanbul. To get in touch with him and contribute to the discussion, feel free to comment on this post or to email him at gcoppi@fordham.edu. A big thanks goes to Kasia Laskowski for invaluable brain-picking, feedback and editing support.

 

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Humanitarian Innovation Fellow Giulio Coppi interviewed by IPI Global Observatory

Fordham University IIHA Humanitarian Innovation Fellow and High Tech Humanitarians Founder Giulio Coppi provides some insight on innovation discussions and outcomes at the World Humanitarian Summit in a recent interview with the International Peace Institute Global Observatory.

 

How Can Humanitarians Embrace Innovation?: Q&A with Giulio Coppi

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IIHA and HTH Among Initiating Members of Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation (GAHI)

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As the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) continues its efforts to promote humanitarian innovation worldwide, we are proud to announce that the IIHA and High Tech Humanitarians are among the initiating members of the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation (GAHI).

The GAHI, launched at the World Humanitarian Summit this week, is a network comprised of governmental actors, knowledge institutes, businesses and humanitarian organizations, bringing together a unique combination of resources, expertise and capabilities. The ambition of the GAHI is to achieve higher impact and efficiency through innovation in humanitarian action. More details to follow soon!

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Alumni Update: Joe Lowry (IDHA 12)

Joe Lowry (IDHA 12) shared with us a blog piece he authored for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Director General William Lacy Swing in advance of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) last month. You can read the text and watch the full video of the spoken word blog post on Joe’s blog.

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Room for Debate: WHS & MSF

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS)

The WHS will take place May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey. Organized by the UN, the summit is a call to action with three main goals:

  1. To re-inspire and reinvigorate a commitment to humanity and to the universality of humanitarian principles.
  2. To initiate a set of concrete actions and commitments aimed at enabling countries and communities to better prepare for and respond to crises, and be resilient to shocks.
  3. To share best practices which can help save lives around the world, put affected people at the center of humanitarian action, and alleviate suffering.

The core responsibilities of the summit are:

  1. Prevent and end conflict
  2. Respect rules of war
  3. Leave no one behind
  4. Working differently to end need
  5. Invest in humanity

With approximately 5,000 people expected to attend, the summit will produce a “Commitments to Action” document which will support the Agenda for Humanity. The document, which is not legally binding, will be a demonstration of goodwill by UN member states and other stakeholders including NGOs.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

On May 5, just a little over two weeks before the main event, MSF announced its withdrawal from participating in the WHS. According to the statement released by MSF, the organization no longer believes the summit “will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations.”

The organization stated, “the summit neglects to reinforce the obligations of states to uphold and implement the humanitarian and refugee laws which they have signed up to.” The organization believes that not enough pressure has been put on member states to uphold the laws of war and it is unfair and unrealistic to ask NGOs like MSF to fill this gap.  IRIN News spoke with a former MSF senior staffer who put MSF’s decision in perspective: “You can ask firefighters to put out a fire. Don’t ask them to build affordable housing.” However, the UN Tribune reports that the UN sees humanitarian aid and development work coming closer together, working in tandem.

Reuters commented that because of MSF’s strong global influence, the WHS may not be as effective without the NGO. Another blog, Humanicontrarian argued WHS’ agenda has been flawed from the beginning, and has little to do with humanitarian aid. At least one person has advocated that MSF pulling out of the summit will help illuminate the gaps in the agenda, and encourage other participating NGOs to demand the summit address them.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General commented on MSF’s withdrawal; “I’d say it’s disappointing, because I think the summit was going to deal with a lot of issues that are vital to MSF and which MSF traditionally presents a strong and influential voice.” He went on to state that the summit is continuing “full speed ahead” and the UN expects over 6,000 attendees. Howard Mollett, a Senior Policy Advisor at CARE International UK pointed out that the WHS “has been a messy, sprawling affair and will inevitably fall far short of what is required to address the vast and deeply political challenges facing humanitarian action.” However, he goes on to argue that “we cannot avoid the fact that the governments, civil society groups and businesses invited are either already engaged on the ground or have an influence on today’s major crises.” The hope is that these already engaged groups attend and commit to acting on “challenges, gaps and weaknesses that MSF, but also Ban Ki Moon, have identified.”

Debate

  • Are MSF’s claims that the WHS will not effectively address governmental responsibility and the weaknesses of humanitarian action valid?
  • Is there another way that MSF could have called attention to its concerns while still participating in the WHS?
  • Will the legitimacy and effectiveness of the WHS be called into question given the lack of participation of MSF?

Please feel free to comment below, or share with your colleagues and networks to start a conversation!

 

 

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Humanitarian Newsletter: May 12, 2016

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Read the IIHA Humanitarian Newsletter featuring a Humanitarian Spotlight on “Ecuador Earthquake Response: IDHA Alumni Working Together in the Field;” news about the recent work of IIHA Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow Alexander van Tulleken, M.D.; and a wide array of alumni updates, humanitarian events and job opportunities! This edition also features news of CIHC Board Member Lady Helen Hamlyn’s recent visit to Fordham University, World Humanitarian Summit Updates, and the always interesting Humanitarian Innovation Corner of High Tech Humanitarians!

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Humanitarian Innovation Corner: May 2016

After the launch of the new platform, HTH together with the IIHA and I2M Factory is preparing some big surprises for the next future. Stay tuned to know more!

In the meantime, HTH and the IIHA welcome a new member to its family: Petros Ioannides! A former Columbia University student, Petros will support HTH communications and strategy implementation, and develop his own project to contribute to humanitarian innovation.

HTH continues its positive outreach trend: HTH attended the first ETC Connect Day in Washington, D.C., that brings together Emergency Telecommunications Cluster members, standing invitees, and existing and new private sector partners to tackle the cluster’s 2020 strategy, developing pilot projects, garnering further commitment and defining the way forward for technology in humanitarian response. In Istanbul, HTH and IIHA were selected to join the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) Innovation Marketplace, the aim of which is to showcase the practical applications of innovations, new or improved products, tools, services and processes that contribute to effective humanitarian action.

What about you: Do you know of any events you want HTH to be part of? Are you aware of anyone who does? Are you in New York, D.C., Boston or Istanbul and want to meet to explore ideas for cooperation? Drop us a line at info@hthumanitarians.org!

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World Humanitarian Summit Update

The UN Secretary-General will convene the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul in 2016. This three-year initiative is being managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The WHS aims to find new ways to address humanitarian needs in our fast-changing world and to bring the global community together to commit to new ways of working together to save lives and reduce hardship around the globe.

In August, OCHA announced that the Chief of the World Humanitarian Summit Secretariat, Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, would step down at the end of the year. IIHA Alumna, Kristy Siegfried of IRIN, recently wrote an article about this new development, in which she provides insight to Dr. Mahmood’s inspirational leadership and the lasting mark Dr. Mahmood will leave on the WHS proceedings. The IIHA wishes IDHA Honoris Causa Recipient Dr. Mahmood all the best in her new position!

As the WHS draws closer, new initiatives include continued events and consultations, and a new blog that will provide commentary and thoughts from UN and other contributors on current crises and modern humanitarian questions. PHAP has also now made available on YouTube all consultation and discussion events in support of the  WHS.

Beginning on 21 September, the WHS online global consultation will gather comments and feedback to inform the preparations for the Global Consultation in Geneva from 14-16 October 2015. Individuals interested in participating may so on the WHS website. The Global Consultation will gather around 900 high-level participants from all stakeholders in humanitarian action. Participants will include representatives from affected communities, governments, civil society, national and international NGOs, regional organizations, United Nations agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the private sector and academia.

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