10 Ways to Improve Our Response to Humanitarian Crises

A special World Humanitarian Summit Report: “Pivot Point in Philanthropy’s Contribution to Addressing Humanitarian Crises”

WHS report coverMy colleague Bill Patton and I recently authored a paper for the World Humanitarian Summit. The paper calls on the philanthropic community to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul this month to make important changes in the way it contributes its share of the global response to humanitarian crises.
Our paper was written with support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and commissioned by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA). As Heather Grady, RPA Vice President, and I were discussing the architecture for the paper, she encouraged us to craft bold recommendations for how philanthropy could effectively support global humanitarian crises – ones that went farther than previous best practice and recommendations papers.
Bold can mean audacious, shoot for the moon, sky is the limit thinking, but there are other ways to look at the concept of boldness. Through a different lens, bold can refer to finding the sweet spot of actionable, practical, life changing, and implementable. It is this lens that Bill and I took when articulating ten recommendations for philanthropists in thinking how to address current and looming humanitarian crises.
As we say in the paper, we firmly believe that remaining ignorant about humanitarian crises and affected vulnerable populations is no longer an option. The ten recommendations represent what we believe to be a bold path forward for effective philanthropy directed toward global humanitarian crises.

  1. Be brave and be present—Respond to all humanitarian crises with philanthropy’s full complement of resources: convening power, flexible financial support, and a problem-solving skill set.
  2. Support aid coordination—Better coordination between philanthropy and other aid institutions will lead to more constructive use of foundation dollars.
  3. Support the Sustainable Development Goals—Be need to ensure that private philanthropic dollars directed toward humanitarian assistance programs are utilized in a manner that supports the SDGs.
  4. Assist the creation of additional joint appeals processes in the United States and across Europe—We recommend that philanthropy undertake research and subsequent pilot projects to determine the feasibility of replicating joint appeals mechanisms more broadly across Europe and within the U.S.
  5. Ally with and support local organizations—A small proportion of humanitarian assistance gets to the grassroots where the need is often greatest. We recommend philanthropy create a flexible fund that would invest in local human and social safety net providers, prioritizing local talent, local resources, and local voices in times of disaster and afterward.
  6. Make an intellectual investment—We encourage philanthropic organizations to build their internal expertise to become better informed about the nature of humanitarian crises, the organizations (especially local ones) involved in the humanitarian assistance sector, needs of vulnerable populations, and the ways that official and non-governmental organizations, and business, can work together to prevent, prepare for, and mitigate disasters and crises of all kinds.
  7. Follow the maps already drawn by others—Adhere to the recommendations that others have advanced over the past decade, which arose after years of experience, successes and failures. Thanks to the leadership of institutions like the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, the Council on Foundations, and the European Foundation Center, as well as the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, a large number of actionable recommendations already exist specifically for philanthropy.
  8. Move from charity to effective philanthropy—It is time to stop thinking about disaster/humanitarian assistance giving as charity, but instead as a strategic component of a foundation’s grant making.
  9. Research global funding flows, including philanthropic funding—We recommend launching a longitudinal research study that examines global funding flows that occur in low- and middle-income countries. This effort would include the United Nations Financial Tracking Service (FTS) and Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) data, but would also include money coming from sources outside of those systems.
  10. Leverage the private sector—The private sector leads in both innovation and maintaining economic viability. Private foundations should seek to leverage these assets for the purpose of humanitarian assistance.

I am interested to learn which recommendation you think your organization might be able to implement. Feel free to contact me at regine.webster@disasterphilanthropy.org and let me know! See the full paper, “A Pivot Point in Philanthropy’s Contribution to Addressing Humanitarian Crises.”

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