Insights from thought leaders across four regions
“In 2022, 274 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection. This number is a significant increase from 235 million people a year ago, which was already the highest figure in decades”.
The global picture is quite grim – pandemic, protracted conflicts, impacts of climate crisis, growing inequalities and polarisation, increases in gender-based violence and drastic worsening of mental health. In addition, the crisis in Ukraine has brought another layer of uncertainty, complexity and heart-breaking human suffering with global implications.
What changes do we have to consider today so that we are sustainable and impactful in our future humanitarian responses?
IFRC Solferino Academy and the President of the IFRC, Mr. Francesco Rocca convened four thought leaders from different geographical regions to think through and discuss the future of the humanitarian world. Senior leaders from 83 National Societies participated in the event. This piece aims to share the insights discussed in the session and reflect upon the questions raised by the speakers.
In his opening statement Mr. Francesco Rocca emphasised the need to move away from the current reactive system to one that focuses on anticipation, preparation, adaptability and acting early. The IFRC network should create more opportunities and spaces for bold, truly innovative solutions while also remaining deeply rooted locally.
President Rocca also stressed that localisation of aid is the future of humanitarianism. We must decolonise aid and question how the humanitarian imperialism of international organisations affects our Movement.
But how do we do that – anticipate better, adapt faster, promote new ways of working? How do we stimulate learning and innovation, embrace failure and integrate transformation as a perpetual practice?
When looking into the future and acknowledging the growing humanitarian needs in the Arab region, Ms Maha Barjas, Secretary General of the Kuwait Red Crescent, emphasised the need to constantly pioneer our humanitarian services to remain relevant and efficient. She stressed that our services should adapt quickly to the changing needs and environment.
Ms Barjas also highlighted that we need to constantly look for new and innovative ways of funding and to build partnerships to improve our capacity to anticipate various scenarios. We must ensure that no person is forgotten and create inclusive responses especially for the most vulnerable.
Ms Fatou Wurie, a Sierra Leonean social justice advocate, talked about the need to revisit the tension between the seven Fundamental Principles and human rights. It is crucial that we start developing an equity-based understanding of humanitarian action and ensure that those affected are being treated equitably.
Ms Wurie reminded us that humanitarian response must put local communities at the forefront of decision making, program design and implementation. This requires humanitarian organisations, including the IFRC network, sharing power.
We must start using feminists and antiracist frameworks to have inclusive conversations and accountability to the affected populations. Ms Wurie pointed out that this all starts with questions about systemic power imbalances – not only due to race but also economic status, gender and gender identity, immigration status and others.
Prof. Zhang Qiang from the International Academy of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in China talked about the need to improve how we navigate complexity, interconnectivity and uncertainty as we prepare for the future.
According to prof. Zhang, we need to become much better at building a learning organisation. We need to improve the ways we do social impact evaluation and create a culture that promotes social innovation and integrates digital approaches. Climate risk should be factored into all the analysis and interventions of humanitarian actors.
International and transnational cooperation can offer new opportunities to build capacities and leverage our knowledge. Prof. Zhang also pointed out that rethinking humanitarian-development nexus can offer insights for new ways of addressing global challenges and responsibilities of different actors.
The need to prioritise and strengthen trust in our organisation today emerged as a common thread from the discussion. In a world where misinformation spreads easily, we need to think how we can cut through all the noise. Looking ahead, we need to better engage people in meaningful conversations and actions.
Reflecting on the contributions of leaders during the meeting, below are some practical insights that have emerged:
Sharing power: leadership commitment to intentionally create spaces for staff and volunteers to lead, to take decisions, act and be accountable. Invest in the team’s ability to lead and to bring an eagerness to change. Share learnings and insights generously.
Learning culture: create a nurturing environment that celebrates the joys of learning, sharing insights and skills but also embracing failures and encouraging teams to constantly look for new ways of working.
Purposeful engagement: expand communication and information sharing to a strategy of engagement with various stakeholders, creating conversations that seek to bridge polarisation and build trust in our societies.
Innovation: create an environment that practises prototyping as an innovation methodology and encourage teams to test their new ideas and develop them as they go. Ensure that it is a continuous process.
Building scenarios: before any major strategic decision is taken, develop a practice of building a few scenarios around the questions to be sure that the decision reflects the diverse possibilities and risks of the future and has enough flexibility to adapt to the different versions of the future.
Call for equity: ensure that humanitarian actions are being led by the communities taking into account the complex nature of personal, political and social dimensions intersecting our lives and shaping our experiences. Intentionally share platforms with the most vulnerable, so they can truly lead, create and decide.
Navigating complexity: critically questioning linearity, plannability and control. Invest in learning how to act and drive efforts in uncertainty; unpack how entangled the key challenges are that we aim to address and what that means for our organisation.
Share with us what you think needs to happen today for the IFRC network to be relevant and impactful in the future: