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Humanitarian Volunteering: Next Generation Response

As a side event to this year’s AidEx Brussels, HLA held a workshop titled ‘Next Generation Humanitarian Response’ (NextGen) on November 15th, 2016. Behind the event was some of our experience through the EU Aid Volunteers consortium ‘Volunteering in Humanitarian Aid,’ which focused on how to adequately inform and train volunteers, particularly in logistics. The event addressed some of the communication gaps between volunteer groups and aid agencies and served as a stepping stone for our future action.

Fifty participants joined us at MSF Belgium’s training facility, representing grassroots groups, independent volunteers and international organisations. The former DG ECHO, Claus Sorensen, was our keynote speaker.

On the panel were:

Ahmad Al Rashid – a Syrian Kurd, born in Aleppo, Syria. He fled his home country due to the conflict going into the Kurdistan region of Iraq. He has worked as a volunteer teaching English in the Syrian refugee camps and later joined the UN to work for both the Syrian refugee response and the Iraqi displaced people response after Mosul fell to ISIS. He was recently granted asylum in the UK and is most known for being featured in the BBC documentary Exodus (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07ky6ft).

Åsa Swee, Lighthouse Relief – an independent volunteer turned NGO Country Director. Lighthouse Relief (http://www.lighthouserelief.org/) is a Swedish NGO founded in Lesvos. Lighthouse Relief Hellas is still active on Lesvos, providing emergency relief and operating the only first reception camp on the island. Today, Lighthouse Relief Hellas is mainly working with specialised, skilled staff and long-term volunteers.

Elvina Quaison, African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) (http://www.afford-uk.org/) – Engagement and Policy Officer, coordinating an EU-funded humanitarian partnership project (DEMAC: http://www.demac.org/) focused on the diaspora and their response to humanitarian situations in their home countries. She has worked with Diaspora organisations for over 15 years.

Gerasimos Kouvaras, ActionAid Hellas – General Director at ActionAid Hellas (http://www.actionaid.gr/) since 2007. He started his career in NGO management as Director of Volunteer Services at the Hellenic Children’s Museum, and then continued as General Manager of the humanitarian organisation Bridges of Friendship, Special Advisor on Voluntary Sector in the Greek Ministry of Education and Director of the Greek Section of Amnesty International.

Julia Stewart-David, ECHO (EU Aid Volunteers initiative) – the Deputy Head of Unit, A3. She specialises in evidenced-based decision-making, EU Aid Volunteers (https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/eu-aid-volunteers), Disaster Risk Management, evaluation and innovation in humanitarian aid.

The challenge of building operational support for humanitarian actors that do not usually interact with the formal aid system was debated by the panel and by more focused breakout group discussions. In recent years, many grassroots groups have provided remarkable humanitarian support, particularly in response to the refugees and migrants that arrived in Europe during 2015-2016. While there was limited discussion specifically regarding operations and logistics, it was clear that there is a need to think globally about how the international aid system can better recognise and engage with local grassroots groups and volunteers, because as much as 75% of international humanitarian assistance is in fact delivered by them. It is also clear that their operations differ starkly from those of the formal system, as they act on ad hoc basis, often with the support of social media and crowdfunding.

Both grassroots groups and institutions, expressed the desire to learn from each other. To address the need for information and training, HLA is now working to provide more research into this topic and, perhaps most critically, to update and improve HLA’s online presence. In this way we aim to support all those involved in humanitarian logistics, even if they are not professional logisticians. We encourage our partners in other aid sectors to also consider more seriously local and civil society actors in their approaches.

At HLA, we are addressing this division in a research project aimed at specifying how grassroots groups and aid organisations can collaborate for more effective response. As we understood from the event, this is a broad and complex issue that we are only starting to engage. Our own Civic Service Volunteer, Alexandra Vasila, is leading it in partnership with Aston University’s (http://www.aston.ac.uk/) Supply Chain programme. We hope to expand the NextGen Project by working with our partner NGO’s, the volunteer groups we have met through the event and academia.

Watch footage of the NextGen event and interviews with our panellists here: http://bit.ly/2jcz4LW and keep checking our social media for the full report on the event.

HLA would publicly like to thank the European Union for the EU Aid Volunteers Initiative, RedRUK (http://www.redr.org.uk/), the European Guild (http://la-guilde.org/), ODI/HPN (http://odihpn.org/), MSF Belgium (https://msf-azg.be/en), the Joffe Charitable Trust (http://www.joffecharitabletrust.org/) and Aston University for the invaluable support to this event and to the further development of the role of Humanitarian Volunteers.