Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

Shaping the humanitarian system


Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Somalia… the list of current humanitarian crises seems unending, with more than 100 million people affected worldwide, spilling across borders and regions. It has become all too clear that the international humanitarian aid system is unable to cope with or adapt to these heavy demands. 

As a recognised leader in humanitarian policy, ODI has long been at the forefront of the debate on how to improve international humanitarian action. We have ramped up this work over the past year, as the humanitarian sector prepared for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in May 2016, bringing together world leaders, humanitarian officials, aid workers, people affected by crises and many more. 

We have influenced the formal WHS process, serving as a go-to source of expert advice for the WHS Secretariat and others, providing substantial feedback on key outputs and moderating sessions at summit consultations. Our research on the changing humanitarian landscape also fed directly into a report by the UN Secretary-General setting the scene for the WHS. 

The people most directly affected by crises are not passive victims – they are the first line of defence and need to be better supported and more involved.

Together with the British Red Cross, we hosted a consultation series as a prelude to the WHS. After a final consultation with the UK Department for International Development, we submitted a summary of our findings to the WHS Secretariat, including concrete recommendations on the need for greater recognition that the people most directly affected by crises are not passive victims – they are the first line of defence and need to be better supported and more involved. We were also invited to give evidence to the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee on UK Government priorities for the Summit. 

ODI has also highlighted critical issues that were overlooked in the formal WHS process. These include the need for internal reform of the humanitarian system, and for more collaboration between this system and a far broader range of regional, national and local humanitarian players. 

To promote such collaboration, we launched a series of landmark conferences in 2015 entitled ‘Forging a new aid model?’ in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross, targeting influential states that have been left on the periphery of the WHS discussions. The first, held in China, engaged top officials from the Chinese government and other influential Chinese institutions. A second conference followed in Indonesia. 

Furthermore, we have supported the development of the Regional Organisations Humanitarian Action Network (ROHAN) to bolster region-wide responses and helped push regional humanitarian action up the political agenda, resulting in a Special Session on ROHAN at the WHS. We also helped shape the WHS Special Session on risk and vulnerability.

ODI has also sought to help end the education crisis facing children affected by humanitarian crises. We worked with a consortium of 19 governments, international organisations and networks – including UNICEF, the UN Special Envoy for Education and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) to design – Education Cannot Wait, a new education crisis platform and fund, launched at the WHS.

Sara Pantuliano, Managing Director