Saturday, July 07, 2012

How Do We Build A Truly Global Humanitarian Society?

Local to Global & Global to Local:  A Spotlight on Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA)

"The era when the international humanitarian system was dominated by a few countries and a few agencies from the West is over.  The richest countries as we can see, are struggling with a long and persistent economic crisis and new paths arising who may not feel so committed to the international system we have built over the past 60 years."

On the last day of the leadership course, we were left wanting more.  Wide eyed and tired but transfixed like hunter dogs, each looking at each other across the lecture hall, stuffed into slanted seats that burned holes in our backsides.  It happens you know, after hours of sitting.

It was the brilliant conclusion of a highly academic and theoretical training course for Leadership and Management of Humanitarian Action under the direction of Fordham University’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research, in partnership with The International Association for Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection and The Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation.

We sat there licking our lips, partly in anticipation of the end-of-course glass of wine they promised us, but mostly we had the thirst. They had triggered that primal need for deeper interrogation.  We wanted more time to critically examine those issues we tend to grapple with at night.  And grapple we do.  Sometimes alone but most of us who work in the humanitarian or social services sector do the soul searching huddled in safe groups while simultaneously rotating beers punctuated with a Scotch whiskey. 

I often say: It is in the struggle that students can leave a classroom with a greater sense of purpose.  Possibility and hope are found in the painful process of interrogating the root problems that challenge our existence. 

In the context of a course or training that for whatever reason fails to provide enough space for essential (and often messy) dialogue, much can be redeemed by the mention of greatness.  Point out a contemporary warrior, a person who you know is out there, courageously digging deeper than expected, doing the messy work of change leadership.  In the mere mention of this role model, we communicate our intrinsic capacity to grow, innovate and change things for the better.  We can and will transform the world into a better place…together.

Transformation happens not because we don’t honor tradition. Nor is it the lack of respect for history and the work of the veterans.  It is simply a natural response to escalating crisis worldwide, challenges we have never experienced before—challenges that are begging us to consider alternative modes of thinking.  Change is born out of necessity.  If it is necessary, it is possible.

Whether you’re community building locally, working in a school riddled with the effects of extreme poverty, fighting for the rights of the disabled or patients with HIV…or maybe you’re working at the global level, residing in another country, negotiating the distribution of food in a refugee camp or working to build proper housing in Haiti— you are humanitarian, born with a similar DNA.  The questions you grapple with are probably the same as mine and many of our questions fall under the heading:  How can we build a truly global and humanitarian society?

On the very same evening of the last day of school, I was fortunate to get the link to this video.  After watching her, I thought:  I am in good company.  Listen to the mind and heart of Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA) and rethink. 

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