How Humanitarian Organizations Navigate New Global Realities in the 21st Century.

During a recent ebbf webinar conversation, #ebbfmember Rhonda Gossen share her personal experience in the evolution elements she has observed and hopes humanitarian organizations will embrace to adapt to new global realities of this age.

ebbf core values link to the global humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, service and sustainability. As a learning community, ebbf also shares that quality with the humanitarian sector which is constantly learning and adapting to new ways of working.

The Pandemic has become the crisis within crisis for humanitarian aid organizations in 2020.

It has accelerated the need for change in the humanitarian sector that has been on the agenda for some time especially on how to adapt emergency response to protracted crises. We are seeing longer, larger and more costly humanitarian situations driving a need to adapt emergency approaches to longer term solutions to assist the most vulnerable. At the same time the conversation on the critical need to tackle root causes of conflict, displacement, poverty and inequality has also heightened. The UN Secretary General has continuously advocated for tackling root causes of conflict and increased effort on conflict prevention to solve global problems.

Rhonda Gossen (third from right) shares an Afghan meal with staff at CIDA’s office in Kandahar.

In 2020, The UN launched its largest appeal for humanitarian aid in its history — $36 Billion for 63 countries ($6.7 B of that for Covid).

UNDP has predicted that global human development is on course to decline this year for the first time since the concept was introduced. We can no longer afford to waste time or resources on parallel efforts, the triple nexus and new way of working have taken on a new meaning in the context we are seeing today.

We are witnessing an acceleration of the breaking down of siloes between actors in development, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding to ensure a focus on collective outcomes through greater coherence between operations but with each contributing unique skill sets.

It’s essential to achieve greater efficiency and meet the needs of those affected by crisis and by extreme poverty.

The World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 called for serious transformative changes in the sector -the Grand Bargain was signed which was a commitment to reforms, to greater transparency, to getting more resources to local and national responders and to bringing people who receive aid more centrally into the decision-making processes.

The UN Secretary General at the world humanitarian summit said “people are the central agents of their lives and are the first and last responders to any crisis”.

The concept is important because it recognizes the need for a systemic power shift to local organizations and solutions; moving away from a top-down approach and recognizing the need for more of a bottom-up approach or at the very least a meeting of the two.

Operating on the ideal of universal participation and the concept of ownership of individuals and over their own aid programs and solutions is a long-standing principle that’s been in the international development field for a long time but it’s still very relevant today and applicable to a humanitarian crisis.

Covid 19 travel and border restrictions have forced a reduction in the deployment of hundreds of international staff and as a result the need to strengthen the role of locally based organizations in crisis response.


The future of aid and how the pandemic has heightened approaches to transforming the humanitarian sector form part of discussions at all levels.

The deep reflection and rethinking of humanitarian aid, including even the fundamental definition of what we would consider humanitarian or a humanitarian crisis are ongoing.

We are seeing the world is not so easily divided into dichotomous groups as for example, wealthier countries now need help with the Pandemic crisis.

Learning is two-way and more countries today are becoming middle income yet many of the humanitarian and even development frameworks are oriented for low-income countries.

If humanitarian actors move towards influencing middle-income countries maybe it’s time to shift from a project oriented focus to more of a policy focus that builds on local capacity and looks at more inter-country exchanges.

A third successive year of flooding in Sindh Province, Pakistan. Credit: Amjad Jamal/World Food Programme

ebbf talks about a seventh concept, the new paradigm and here we want to amplify the discussions underway about universal basic income.

UNDP recently came out with a study on temporary basic income — a practical approach to respond at scale to protect the most vulnerable under Covid.

One successful innovation in the humanitarian sector is the use of cash as a modality in place of wide distribution of goods and setting up parallel services.

The Proposal for a temporary universal basic income includes the use of cash transfer and temporarily repurposing low income countries debt repayments for these emergency measures.

Social change is not a project that one group of people should carry out on behalf of another and for true transformative change and solutions, aid that respects people’s dignity and decision making choices and strengthens their capacity to be protagonists of their own recovery through resilience is surely a more sustainable approach to meeting the needs of the poor.


  • What are recovery, progress and self -reliance understood to mean?
  • How is knowledge about resilient communities to be created and by whom?
  • In what way will relationships, assumptions and arrangements common to contemporary discourse and practice need to shift?

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