Can an academy for aid workers boost the efficiency of humanitarian response?

Save the Children staff in Tacloban, Philippines, assess needs in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. The organization's idea of a Humanitarian Leadership Academy that would train more than 100,000 aid workers to respond to emergencies launched today in London. Photo by: Nove foto da Firenze / CC BY-NC-SA

From the Syrian crisis to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, there is no doubt that the humanitarian community is overstretched.

And we’re just talking about crises that are currently in our radar. It doesn’t yet include potential emergencies arising from natural calamities or humanitarian disasters in countries vulnerable to conflict, such as the Central African Republic or Somalia.

The humanitarian community’s good-intentioned but often ill-prepared response to these crises have repeatedly generated criticism and calls from other stakeholders for a remodeling of the system. There’s just too much bureaucracy causing delays in response, exacerbated by insufficient capacity at the international and national level.

Such calls for a change in the humanitarian system can’t happen overnight, but Save the Children has thought of a plan to at least address some of the gaps, particularly in human resources.

On Monday, representatives from donor agencies, humanitarian organizations, the academe and the private sector launched the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, a cross-sector initiative that aims to train more than 100,000 aid workers and volunteers across 50 countries who then can be tapped and have the capacity to respond to a crisis situation in their own countries or neighboring countries within 72 hours of an emergency. The goal is to make aid response fast, efficient and inexpensive, with front-line responders immediately available locally.

The academy, to be hosted by Save the Children, has yet to release specific details on how this will play out in practical terms, including defining eligibility criteria for interested humanitarians and how — and who — can tap these trained individuals when an emergency occurs.

It will be chaired by Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. The U.K. Department for International Development and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs are the first donors to pledge support for the initiative, with 20 million pounds ($28.9 million) and 500,000pounds, respectively. That amount covers half of the 50 million pounds the academy estimates it will need for the first five years of operations.

How the academy’s stakeholders plan to continue operations beyond the initial five years has yet to be known, but they promise to transform a struggling humanitarian system — or at least try.

What to expect from the academy

The academy is the product of a realization that the setup of the humanitarian system is already functioning in an outdated fashion, where humanitarian aid, according to Gareth Owen, humanitarian director at Save the Children and who was honored in 2013 with an OBE for his work on global emergency crisis response, is still seen as “something wealthy nations bestow on those who need it.”

But the truth is, a lot has changed, and players in the richer north can no longer function as the sole provider of aid as it used to. In Syria, for example, it is the national and local Syrian organizations that have access and therefore are able to reach those who have been displaced and are in need of assistance.

Over the past decade though, the sector has not “moved much in diversifying and localizing humanitarian leadership,” Owen told Devex Monday at the initiative’s launch in London.

But there’s lots of hope that this would change as the academy kicks into high gear. Here’s a rundown of what to expect in the next five years:

Digital resource library and a dedicated humanitarian search engine

There will be on-the-ground training via the academy centers, and virtual training via local Web portals and platforms. Information on best practices and case studies will also be available online through a digital resource library and a dedicated humanitarian search engine, similar to Google Scholar. The academy plans to recruit knowledge officers for its academy centers on the initiative’s first year to gather best practices and case studies at the national and local level, which will be shared globally.

A skills passport

The academy plans to introduce a skills passport for aid workers that will undergo training under the academy. This will certify their qualifications, and allow governments and organizations to quickly tap into these skills during a crisis. The academy will maintain a database for these passport holders.

10 academy centers

The academy will set up hubs or academy centers in different regions around the globe. Some places have already been identified, such as Kenya (to be managed by the Kenyan Institute of Management) and Bangladesh (to be managed by NGO BRAC).

Others are in the Philippines, Jordan, Indonesia and the United Kingdom. There are also plans to set up academy centers in the following regions: one each in Latin America, West Africa, Southeast Asia and Southern Africa.

The training and materials are open to community-based organizations, front-line health workers, members of the corporate sector, government institutions and regional bodies, United Nations, staff members of humanitarian and development organizations, and any individual interested to learn about responding to emergencies.

Gabriella Jóźwiak contributed reporting.

What type of training would you like or expect to receive at the Humanitarian Leadership Academy? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.