Workshop Summary: Humanitarian Leadership

The panel on Humanitarian Leadership was moderated by Joel Charny (Vice President, Humanitarian Policy & Practice, InterAction) and was comprised of experts JohnMitchell (Director, ALNAP), Mia Beers  (Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor, USAID/OFDA), Nan Buzzard (Senior Director of International Response & Programs, American Red Cross), and Claire Messina (Senior Coordinator, HLCU, OCHA).

The discussion commenced with a presentation of the recent ALNAP study, Leadership in Action: Leading effectively in humanitarian operations.  The study examined success stories in humanitarian leadership and extrapolated the characteristics of these leaders as well as made recommendations on how we, as a community, can improve in our approach to leadership.

The panelists responded to the ALNAP report, commenting on both areas of agreement as well as divergence. Buzzard noted that we have to recognize our successes better and ensure that leaders are mentored and encouraged. 

The workshop was well-attended by experts in the field, with numerous members of the humanitarian community adding to the discussion on challenges to effective leadership in increasingly complex and risk adverse environments. 

Debate surrounded the discussion around the question of whether the critical experience required to be a leader in the humanitarian system must come from within the field itself or whether there is some space as well for strong leaders to come from outside.

It was underlined that the core humanitarian values that drive our work have to find a way to surface beyond the current environment of risk aversion and turf battles.  It was also highlighted that we need to invest more in organizational leadership, and be more proactive in finding and developing national leaders.

The workshop forced those in the room to take stock of whether we are doing enough. Beers called on us to think innovatively.  As Messina stated so well, "we don’t need to grow leaders for today’s challenges; we need to grow leaders for tomorrow's needs." 

By Tawana Jacobs, associate director of public relations at InterAction