Strengthening local leadership to better respond to the Ukraine crisis and lead recovery

“The Crisis Leadership Program helped me to get knowledge that is important for navigating the humanitarian system. This is a new field for me because my organization has been working in a system of social help and civic society organization for 30 years, but humanitarian crisis is something new for us.” – Maria Sadowska, CLP Seed participant

After months of posturing, Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine overnight on Feb. 24, 2022. After that, the humanitarian situation in Ukraine deteriorated drastically and rapidly. Millions of Ukrainians have endured intense hostilities, which killed and injured thousands of civilians, forced millions from their homes, and destroyed livelihoods. And the fighting continues. Civilian infrastructure, including aid facilities, continues to be attacked on a daily basis.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Ukraine Humanitarian Needs Overview, in 2023, 17.6 million people in Ukraine – approximately 40% of Ukraine’s population – require humanitarian assistance, 45% of whom are women, 23% are children and 15% are people with disabilities.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy awarded a grant from the CDP Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Recovery Fund to Deakin University’s Centre for Humanitarian Leadership (CHL) in 2022 to elevate, empower and strengthen local civil society leadership in the Ukraine humanitarian crisis. CHL’s goal is to enhance the disaster recovery capabilities of local organizations by strengthening local humanitarian leadership capabilities, knowledge, understanding and ability to effectively advocate for their needs and influence response and recovery plans and decisions that affect their communities.

It is widely acknowledged that local voices are far too often left out of decisions that affect them in the primarily internationally-led humanitarian response due to unfamiliarity with the aid architecture and channels for engagement. CHL designed the Crisis Leadership Program (CLP) to expand the leadership skills of people providing frontline assistance as part of the crisis response in Ukraine. The program provides participants with tools and techniques to strengthen their skills and insights to deepen their understanding of their leadership capabilities and the disaster response system. Participants also learn how to use their leadership skills to effectively navigate the disaster response system and influence it to ensure the inclusion of Ukrainian perspectives in the planning and resourcing decisions, with a particular focus on including those who are regularly marginalized and excluded in society.

Forty participants — 17 Ukrainian and 23 Polish — enrolled in CLP Cohort 1, with 31* completing the course (14 Ukrainian and 17 Polish). There was outstanding female representation across both nationalities, with 14 Ukrainian and 12 Polish female participants. Local and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations and civil society organizations were well represented, with participants reporting a strong professional focus on humanitarian emergency responses and program development.

Graduates of the program reported feeling more confident in their ability to lead effective crisis responses than before the program. They gained awareness, understanding and confidence about international funding, localization and the international humanitarian response mechanism structure. Participants also report changing how they collaborate and coordinate with others in the international humanitarian system because of CLP, including better communication and engagement with donors and other relevant organizations and increased enthusiasm or clarity about their roles and expectations.

In this video, Maria Sadowska, a CLP Seed participant, talks about her experience participating in the course and encourages others to apply for the program:

After completing the course, respondents expressed a commitment to localization in their work and emphasized the importance of investing in and trusting local NGOs and organizations in crisis response. The program graduates will use the skills they learned to support response efforts as the crisis in Ukraine continues, as well as planning for and supporting long-term recovery in affected communities.

With funding from the CDP grant, CHL plans to serve more than 400 local leaders who will go on to lead organizations that will have an exponential impact on Ukraine’s recovery in the years to come. In the coming months, the CLP will expand to reach local leaders across the Middle East and Asia, with courses in Istanbul and Bangkok.

CDP is proud to support CHL’s efforts to strengthen existing local and national humanitarian leadership in Ukraine and beyond to respond to the crisis now and lead the long-term recovery. Click To Tweet

“CDP believes that disaster response starts and ends locally. Local communities and leadership are the first to respond and the last ones left to pick up the pieces, lead recovery and ensure their communities thrive after a disaster. By investing in strengthening local leaders who know their community and needs best, we vastly improve the chances of an equitable recovery for all populations affected by the war.” – Alex Gray, CDP director of international funds

*Note: Students who did not complete the course left due to personal and work commitment clashes and an inability to leave Ukraine to attend the in-person unit. These students will be offered the option to attend a future course to complete the program.

Story by Ruja Entcheva

Photo: Crisis Leadership Program participants contribute to a session during the in-person intensive. (Credit: Centre for Humanitarian Leadership)