The future of humanitarian action: Decolonizing humanitarian aid

Devex and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation broadcast the first in a series of conversations on the future of humanitarian action on Thursday, Sept. 17, at 10 a.m. ET. Via YouTube

There has never been a more important time to discuss the future of humanitarian action. The number and severity of humanitarian crises are growing around the world. More people are displaced from their homes than at any other time since World War II. And with a rapidly changing climate, more migration, conflict, pandemics, and natural disasters are expected.

For 25 years, the Hilton Foundation has honored and highlighted the lifesaving work of humanitarian organizations through the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. In conjunction with the prize ceremony, the Hilton Foundation hosts an annual symposium, bringing together thought leaders from around the world to discuss pressing humanitarian issues and look at the ways we must build our future together. While COVID-19 has caused the cancellation of this in-person event, the foundation is partnering with Devex to have these fundamental conversations in a virtual setting.

In the first of these conversations, we explore what it takes to decolonize humanitarian aid with those who are leading the work in the U.S. and globally. We will speak with Edgar Villanueva, author of “Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom To Heal Divides and Restore Balance,” Cheryl Dorsey, president of Echoing Green, and Kennedy Odede, co-founder and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities, about the colonialist mentality pervading humanitarian aid and how to reform it.

“Colonization” in aid and development refers to the idea that Western researchers and practitioners impose their ideas on countries with low resources, without involving people from those places and while controlling key resources such as money. In this conversation, we try to understand the causes and repercussions of the colonial mindset and ask: What will it take to decolonize aid?

The process of decolonization will involve multiple stakeholders — old and new partners, a new way of thinking, and a radical approach toward the redistribution of power. As COVID-19 rages on, these issues have become all the more pertinent. We ask our panelists what their lived experiences have been, how they envision working through the process of decolonization, and what the challenges and opportunities are.

Watch the full conversation.

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