Forum Plenary Speakers Emphasize The Importance Of Partnerships

There were many opportunities to learn about the humanitarian and development community at this year’s InterAction Forum. The event featured four plenary sessions with humanitarian and development leaders and experts. The overall message of the Forum was about the importance of development groups working together for their common mission. Here are some of the things the speakers said during each of the sessions that caught my attention:

United We Stand

On Tuesday morning, former President Bill Clinton opened Forum with thought provoking ideas about the need to work together. He discussed the current role of NGOs in the world and about issues of health, peace and security and climate change.

“We’re going to have to change the world together so our grandchildren live in a world of equality,” Clinton said.

Then, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and Joyce Banda, former President of the Republic of Malawi, spoke about their leadership experiences and the importance of engaging with the people being served. Robinson stressed what Clinton said about this being the most interdependent period in history. She said that there is an opportunity for the development sector to form smart partnerships. Banda spoke about the importance of partnerships between American NGOs to African NGOs. “Perhaps this is an opportunity for African nations to step up,” Banda said.

From left to right: CEO of InterAction Sam Worthington, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, Joyce Banda, former President of the Republic of Malawi. 

The Changing Dynamics of Migration

Tuesday afternoon’s plenary session looked at the reasons behind the increase in migrants, the challenges presented to governments and society by the mass movement of people and the best practices for maintaining a culture of acceptance.

The session began with two refugees, Lenny Ndayisaba and Mais Balkhi, sharing their stories about the difficulties they faced when they first started a new life in the U.S. Balkhi who emigrated from Syria to the U.S. said, “Integration is one of the hardest life lessons you can learn.” Ndayisaba came to the U.S. after fleeing to Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “We fled because of war. It was not our choice to leave the country,” he said.

Kristina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank, said it is important for us to support those that are helping others in need. “We need to help the communities that are the first line of help for refugees,” Georgieva said. “Hate is loud. Anger is very loud. Goodness is quiet. The question is: How do we amplify voices of goodness?”

From left to right: Patricia Mcllreavy, vice presisdent of Humanitarian Policy and Practice at InterAction, Tejshri Shah, chair of the Operational Centre Amsterdam, Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, Kristalina Georgieva, chief executive officer for the World Bank

The Human Side of Technology

The Wednesday morning plenary examined the opportunities and challenges associated with using new technology to address the needs of the global development and humanitarian community.

Nilmini Rubin, vice president for international development at Tetra Tech said, internet access is no longer a privilege. She spoke about how the internet can connect communities and save lives. She also spoke about the gender divide in internet access. “The future is here but not evenly distributed,” Rubin added. She said 250 million more men than women are online.

Ann Mei Cheng, former chief innovation officer at the U.S. Global Development Lab at USAID, said that technology is not a solution in itself. She said it is useful for assisting with resources that already exist in communities.

Above: Nilmini Rubin, vice president for international development at Tetra Tech

Navigating the New Washington

The closing plenary session at InterAction Forum examined how humanitarian organizations can navigate the rapid policy changes and assert their interests to advance shared goals. The panelists said the proposed reductions to foreign assistance and possible restructuring of USAID makes this a key moment to push to maintain the role of development organizations in foreign policy.

“We’re in a dangerous moment with an alarming level of division.” Gayle Smith, president and CEO of the ONE campaign said. She said it’s important for foreign aid advocates to focus on limiting topline reductions for foreign aid spending accounts, instead of fighting for specific line items.

The plenary’s panelists spoke about the need for foreign aid groups to work together for a strong foreign aid budget and to push to maintain the role of development in foreign policy. Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute said, development groups need to make a case that this country has always thrived by having the public, private and nonprofit sector working together.   “We have to hone a message that this is money being spent that provides a direct benefit to Americans,” Ornstein said.

Daniel Runde, the director of the Project on Prosperity and Development at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said InterAction members are the perfect organizations to create multisector partnerships.

From left to right: Norman Ornstein, long-time observer of Congress and politics, Manish Bapna, executive vice president and managing director of the World Resources Institute, Lindsay Coates, president of InterAction, Daniel F. Runde, director of the Project on Prosperity and Development, Gayle E. Smith, president and CEO of the ONE camaign 

As a first time Forum participant, I enjoyed hearing from development experts about ways that issues in development can be addressed. My favorite part of the Forum was the recognition organizations and individuals received for their actions that have had a positive impact around the world. The ideas presented by the Forum speakers will inspire me for the coming year to find ways to support those in need. Throughout the three-day event, I learned about the importance of development, and I am anxious to see what changes we will see during the coming year.