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?
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.
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.
It has already been a year since the adoption of the “Grand Bargain”, a global agreement made at the World Humanitarian Summit to save up to a billion US dollars over five years by reducing inefficiencies in how humanitarian aid is provided. How well are we doing? Are things actually changing where they are supposed to? Is humanitarian aid becoming more efficient and effective?
I continue to explore how developing countries go about increasing their tax revenues as a way to escape from poverty, reducing the need for aid and other forms of international co-operation. In jargon, we call these efforts domestic resource mobilisation. This time I have spoken with Huong Nguyen, Non-Executive Director of the Vietnam Initiative Social Enterprise (VNI), a leading Vietnamese think-tank based in the country’s capital, Hanoi...
The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit is over, with mixed results. For those, including me, who were hoping the discussion would tackle some of the root causes of humanitarian crises, like the lack of political solutions to fundamentally political problems, the conference was a missed opportunity. At the same time, the summit turned out to be positively surprising, focusing the attention on issues that are normally sidelined in global discussions or, even worse, labelled as ‘charity’.