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After an insightful and educational few days at EHF2023, here are my 5 key takeaways


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Today, a staggering 339 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. 

Yet, the barriers to humanitarian access are increasing, making it harder than ever for organisations like the International Rescue Committee to reach the most vulnerable. Alarmingly, this is not a topic that often makes headlines. However, in 2022, millions of people in more than 80 countries were unable to receive aid due to access constraints.

The impact on people in humanitarian need is growing by the day.

Humanitarian access was in the spotlight at the European Humanitarian Forum, EHF, hosted by the European Commission and the Swedish Presidency. These discussions MUST translate into action, and be a catalyst for the changes needed to ensure humanitarian assistance can be delivered swiftly and effectively.

What an insightful and educational few days at the EHF2023 in Brussels that brought together aid workers, donors, and political players for public panels and behind-the-scenes meetings. The week circled around a familiar conundrum for the humanitarian sector: Who has funding, who gets it, where does it go, and how does it get there?

It’s been an incredible experience to be surrounded by the passionate and brilliant individuals working within the sector, here are my 5 key takeaways:

1. Collaboration is vital

The ever-growing global humanitarian crisis simply cannot be solved in silos. Now is the time for transparency and collaboration, for partnerships that enable a further reach for desperately needed aid. A collaboration that goes hand-in-hand with another is the climate crisis and humanitarian crisis. If we can work in tandem to find solutions and invest in development, we are able to generate a wider impact across both issues.

It was amazing to see our fabulous clients IFRC & UNHCR represented at the Forum and friends of 3 Sided Cube IRC & UNWFP providing powerful insights from their global humanitarian efforts.

2. Can humanitarian aid be truly neutral?

A hot topic at the Forum was the moral debate around if humanitarian aid can be truly neutral and if it should be. A powerful response to this was that humanitarian response can be both impartial in identifying need whilst not being neutral in relation to the conflict itself and as such, can stand on the right side of history. While many humanitarians may strive for impartiality and neutrality, the donors that fund the bulk of their work are largely Western governments with clear political agendas – and those agendas are squarely tied to Ukraine, with a plethora of other crises further back in the queue.

“The problem with layering geopolitical objectives on humanitarian crises is that it completely skews the humanitarian principles,” said Barry Andrews, a member of the European Parliament, speaking at a panel on prioritising scarce aid resources. Humanitarian crises are a global problem and the current hierarchy of attention/support a cause receives desperately needs to change.

3. Money Talks

As an ex-fundraiser, I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t touch on the theme of the international funding gap for humanitarian aid, response, preparedness, and anticipatory action. Hearing these international giants, describe the increasing need in the world and the increasing funding gap from global government support meant a key focus was on diversifying funders to the private sector.

This is reminiscent of what I am hearing throughout the fundraising community, where the need is growing year-on-year but the funding isn’t increasing at the same speed to match that global need. But another thought that crossed my mind was, what will the impact of these international heavyweights and iNGOs moving into these new markets be on the other NGOs/charities that already rely on these funding streams without global government support? 

Humanitarian needs are soaring, and donor budgets aren’t keeping pace. Who will supply the cash? Aid officials continue to desperately look for answers. 

Among the ideas broached at one panel: to scale up help from the private sector, tapping in to development and climate financing. There are dozens of governments that that should be contributing far more, said Jan Egeland, Head of the Norwegian Refugee Council. “We have to call them out,” he said. “These are countries that are having Olympics and World Championships, and putting up satellites in space at an enormous rate.”

Similarly, there’s untapped potential in the private sector to innovate and drive economic growth, but not as a bottomless bank account for depleted aid funds, said Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation.

“The least effective thing you can do with the private sector is ask them for a cheque”

4. Migration

Filippo Grandi, Commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees held a fascinating discussion on how UNHCR can best contribute to the asylum and migration debate in Europe; and the European Union can best support responses to humanitarian and refugee crises worldwide. It was an important reminder that we need to extend the same hospitality to other countries in need and the basic human right to safe dwelling.

5. Talk is cheap

The final thought & arguably the most important was the need for action and not just words. This forum made me painfully aware of the uphill battle we are facing in addressing the multitude of crises around the world. These discussions, as enlightening as they were, must translate into action and drive change to ensure humanitarian assistance can be delivered swiftly and effectively without fear of retaliation.

By the end, the consensus was positive and was really reassuring to hear. I go to a lot of conferences/forums and sometimes it feels like the greatest minds in the world are there but will there be real change? The fact that ACTION was repeatedly referenced by the greatest minds in the sector gives me hope it will.

If you were there, please share your key takeaways. I would love to hear what moved you most and what changes you might make in your day-to-day roles. If you are in the London area and wanted to continue the conversation, 3 Sided Cube is holding an in-person event about how technology can support a humanitarian response and I would love to see you there!

Published on March 28, 2023, last updated on March 28, 2023

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