20 June is World Refugee Day. This year, humanitarian and refugee agencies will mark it very differently due to the coronavirus pandemic, but for millions of refugees and other forcibly displaced people, little will change. For many of them, putting food on the table remains a bigger challenge than avoiding getting infected. I talk about these competing priorities and possible solutions with Reshad Jalali, Policy Officer at the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).
A few months ago I met a brilliant colleague, Sema Genel Karaosmanoğlu, at a global meeting on how to improve humanitarian action. Sema is the Executive Director and Board Member of Support to Life, a Turkish NGO. She also heads the largest global network of local aid organisations, NEAR. As the Covid-19 pandemic spreads to the global South, Sema shares her perspectives on humanitarian aid, how to improve it and what local organisations can contribute to address the challenge of our time.
In my previous post, I discussed the international response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake with Sabina Carlson Robillard and her husband Louino ‘Robi’ Robillard. They both participated in relief efforts at the time. Today, they manage Konbit Solèy Leve, a community-led movement founded in the biggest Haiti slum, Cite Soleil, in 2011. In Part Two of our conversation, Sabina and Robi share the objectives of Konbit Solèy Leve and explain how this model of local solidarity can be used to address other similar challenges around the world. Truly an inspiration for finding creative ways to help each other at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is keeping people apart.
This is the first part of a conversation with Sabina Carlson Robillard and her husband Louino ‘Robi’ Robillard. Sabina, a US national, and Robi, a Haiti-born, met in Haiti while contributing to the response to the 2010 earthquake. Today they support Konbit Solèy Leve, a community-led movement founded in the biggest Haiti slum, Cite Soleil, in 2011. In Part One of this conversation, Sabina, Robi and I discuss the international response to the 2010 earthquake from a local perspective.
Para mi primer artículo en el 2020 quisiera comenzar la publicación de artículos en otros idiomas, además del inglés. Como mencioné antes, es tiempo de reflejar la diversidad de visiones sobre los problemas del desarrollo global en el idioma que usamos -algo que la traducción instantánea suele perder. Espero que la lectura del artículo a continuación en el idioma nativo de la entrevistada ayude a eliminar las barreras del lenguaje (y del poder) en nuestra conversación global. Muchas gracias a Roxana Goldstein por su traducción.
For my first 2020 blog post I would like to start publishing articles in other languages in addition to English. As I have mentioned before, it is time to reflect the diversity of views on global development issues in the language we use – something that instant translations often miss. I hope reading the article below in the interviewee’s mother tongue will help eliminate language (and power) barriers to our global conversation. Many thanks to Roxana Goldstein for her translation.
After the climate change conference in Madrid (COP 25) and before the end-of-the year holidays is a fitting time to think of those who are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, particularly those without a place to live – the homeless. I discuss their challenges with Rajendra Kumar, the Director of the School of Architecture at Noida International University, just South-East of New Delhi, India. Rajendra, who is also a member of civil society platform CIVICUS, promotes sustainable architecture, both in his native India and around the world. Here he explains what role architecture can play in reducing the harshest effects of climate change on the homeless.
This year marks the first review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals, the seventeen objectives universally agreed to advance human progress by 2030. I discuss this progress, particularly in the fight against climate change, with Maria Theresa (Tetet) Nera Lauron. Tetet is an Advisor at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation office in Manila, Philippines. Prior to this role, she closely followed the climate change negotiations leading to the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015.
Having worked on global development issues for over two decades, I should know who is an expert in my sector by now. I have many lists of experts on file and can’t help noticing a recurring trend: it’s usually people from a Northern/Western background, with endless degrees and credentials, most of them English-speaking. All of which begs the question: are these traits supposed to be the qualifications of the ultimate expert in my field? What if there’s a whole world of ‘expertise’ that we simply don’t consider?
As I seek to amplify Southern voices, I have partnered with CIVICUS, the world’s largest civil society platform, to reach out to its members and invite them to share how they are contributing to positive change. Among the many enthusiastic responses I have received so far, here is the amazing story of Kenneth (Ken) Ssenkubuge, a young Ugandan entrepreneur who has co-founded the online platform Hire the Youth. Its mission is to facilitate access to job opportunities, scholarships and fellowships for people aged 15-30 years with little or no work experience. Hire the Youth also helps young people cope with some of the challenges of finding a job, including how to manage the risk of depression. Based in Kampala, Ken is now working to establish partnerships with interested companies and organisations all over Africa.
The recent influx of refugees and migrants to Europe has brought to light the complexity of migration and how it is often linked to the development of the countries these people are escaping from. I discuss these issues with a former colleague of mine, Anas El Hasnaoui, who represents the Arab NGO Network for Development. Anas talks about the linkages between migration and development, particularly in his region, North Africa.
For my second interview with refugees advocating on behalf of other refugees I have reached out to Shaza Nabeel Al-Rihawi, a Syrian woman who now lives in Germany, where she works for the research institute LifBi. Shaza is also a member of the European Migrant Advisory Board and the co-founder of the Network for Refugee Voices. As World Refugee Day fast approaches, Shaza recalls the many challenges she has had to face to reunite with her family, rebuild her life from scratch and strive to improve refugees’ participation in the decisions that directly affect them.
With this post I have decided to focus almost exclusively on interviewing Southern policy-makers, practitioners and citizens, at least for the next few months. There really isn’t any need to filter what they think of humanitarian aid, development or climate change. The people I meet through my work often only need to have their voices amplified – and that’s what this blog is all about.
In the lead up to World Refugee Day on 20 June, it seems fitting to inaugurate a series of interviews I like to call “Refugees for Refugees”.
By this time of the year, wishing world peace may sound naïve and out of place. But for many people living in conflict zones, believing that peace is possible is surprisingly common. Inversely, it is often in more peaceful countries that we find the least optimistic people. This is what transpires from the first-ever Peace Perceptions Poll (2018), an initiative led by the NGO International Alert and the British Council in partnership with polling agency RIWI.
At the beginning of the year I wrote about the challenge of localising aid or, broadly put, how to help local civil society organisations to better respond to a crisis by strengthening their capacity and channeling more international funding directly through them. As 2018 draws to a close, I come back to this topic to share the latest thinking based on what I heard from a few local partners themselves at a recent event held in The Hague.
During the summer break I finally had the time to reflect on the impact of the “Me Too” movement on the aid sector. A lot has been said already and yet we still know very little about the actual scale of the problem and even less about how it affects local aid workers in developing countries. This is what I find peculiar about current discussions on sexual harassment and abuse. Most of them reflect an expat’s lens instead of local workers' views.
This year marks my twentieth anniversary of working in the humanitarian and development sector. One of the issues I grapple most with these days is whether international aid is still, fundamentally, a Western construct based on assumptions that are no longer relevant, or if it is a universal form of assistance that takes different shapes depending on the region of the world we work in. In particular, if international cooperation is truly universal, is it paying more attention to what Southern citizens and the people directly affected by a crisis think of the aid they receive across the board, or is citizen engagement just another Western trend?
There are plenty of studies on civil society movements – how they start, grow and make citizen voices heard. Much less do we know about what happens at the other side of the negotiating table: how do public officials interacting with civil society representatives decide to respond to their requests? What drives bureaucrats’ decisions and why?
I have recently started a new job with the International Rescue Committee, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that specialises in humanitarian aid in countries affected by conflict and natural disasters.
Coming back to the humanitarian sector after over a decade, I am struck to find that many discussions about the efficiency and effectiveness of aid replicate what has been said in development circles for years. One issue in particular is at the heart of discussions old and new: the challenge of ‘localising aid’, that is, helping local civil society organisations to better respond to a crisis through increased capacity and more direct funding from donor governments. Having agreed globally in 2016 that we should indeed localise aid, the humanitarian community is now tackling the big question: are we seeing any real change?
The development literature of the 1980s and 1990s gave considerable attention to participation in development – engaging local people, the “beneficiaries”, in decisions relating to their own development. This school of thought quickly drew criticism as the question was asked: what are they participating in? Of course, the answer was frequently that participation was little more than mobilising people in implementing an outside agenda, however well-meaning that may have been.