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2020 hit us hard but what if ...

By Ophelie Namiech, Mindset-PCS managing director.

November 23rd, 2020.

Credits: Ben Dagani, for AJEEC-NISPED, Cameroon.

2020 hit us hard.

We all agree on that.

A global pandemic profoundly transformed the way we live, work, and think. The way we imagine our future. As humans. And as humanitarians.

For the worst, and maybe, also for the better.

COVID-19 shed lights on urgent global threats that have been lurking above our heads before 2020: rampant violence against women and girls, unstable livelihoods, soaring food insecurity, growing social and economic inequalities, climate change, and environmental degradation.

Our planet, our humanity, have been hurting for a while.

Maybe, a global shock was needed to highlight the core fractures of our world.

What if, a mask – with all the restrictions and frustrations that it brought – had, unexpectedly, unveiled our mutual threats but also our shared opportunities.

That world may have finally uncovered its common denominator and collective narrative.

For instance, the concept of borders seems more irrelevant than ever before.

Our meetings take place, instinctively, amongst Somalis, Israelis, Americans, Pakistanis, French, Indians, Kenyans, Venezuelans, Lebanese – without geographical, ethnical, or religious barriers.

“Where are you joining us from?” or “how is COVID in your country” became the usual introductory greeting phrases on Zoom.

We have finally created a global language – the COVID language. And, we have all become quite fluent in it notwithstanding our countries of origin, personal and professional backgrounds, and aspirations.

We have also stopped flying around to attend ego-boosting conferences or to dictate how humanitarian response should take place in the most volatile and complex locations worldwide.

Community-led responses to COVID-19 were very effective in many countries of the Global South – where women and youth groups were the first to make and sell protective masks, antiseptic gels, and handwashing devices, and communities identified alternative livelihoods strategies to mitigate the negative economic impact of COVID-19.

This could be good news for the humanitarian sector – forcing us to adjust the trajectory of our profession beyond the rhetoric.

Our ‘humanitarian budgets’ finally became slimmer, without the incessant back-and-forth trips between big cities in the Global North and refugee camps in Sub-Saharan Africa, and without the heavy reliance on international experts flying around.

COVID-19 demonstrated that communities in complex and volatile environments can, and should, lead processes that concern them.

Maybe we, humanitarian actors, can finally realize that local challenges can be solved with local solutions, local wisdom, and local expertise.

It is not to say, that our roles, as international humanitarian practitioners, have become obsolete. No. But the current situation highlights the need to reshape our positions in a rapidly changing world.

Simply put, it is time for us to redefine our responsibilities with more behind-the-scenes technical support, more facilitation roles, and greater investment in promoting local and national resilience.

So, now let us apply what we have painfully learned this year.

We are facing a unique opportunity in the humanitarian sector to reflect and finally push for the localization agenda for millions of people who can benefit from solutions and services from within their own communities.

We, international actors, can still address gaps in capacity and resources, by facilitating funding towards local structures, revisiting humanitarian financing models, engaging the private sector more meaningfully, unlocking the potential of ethical innovation and technology, promoting capacity and experience sharing, and maximizing community networks in the Global South.

Yes, this year has been harsh, but there are some bright sides: 1)  COVID-19 may have paradoxically brought us closer together, and 2) as humanitarians, it gives us the opportunity to break down long-lasting barriers that have prevented us from embracing the paths of localization, sustainability, and agility.

We can finally impulse this paradigm shift that everyone has been talking about for more than a decade in the humanitarian sector by:

  1. redefining the way humanitarian action is being conceptualized, implemented and delivered;

  2. truly investing in existing local capacities, structures, solutions, and potentials; and

  3. genuinely promoting individual, community, and systemic resilience to meaningfully reduce risks, vulnerabilities, and eventually needs.

These COVID-19 times, more than ever, encourage us to innovate, collaborate, and adapt our mindsets.

Picture credits: Ben Dagani for AJEEC-NISPED, Cameroon.


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