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Not many development organizations can trace their roots to theoretical physics, but it was none other than Albert Einstein who suggested in 1933 that the European-based International Relief Association set up a US branch to help people suffering in Nazi Germany.

That branch became the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and today the organization works in more than 40 countries responding to humanitarian crises.

One of those crises is, of course, the Syrian civil war. But as IRC president David Miliband says in this CGD Podcast, "IRC has to be focused on the places that are not in the headlines" as well. With more people in need for longer, that's a lot of ground to cover; is the current humanitarian system up to the challenge?

"The first thing I would say is that it's a humanitarian sector, not a humanitarian system," Miliband tells me, defining the former as a group of disparate organizations that simply share a common purpose and the latter by "clear outcomes, a shared evidence base, clear objectives, certain metrics of work, [and] certain methods of coordination."

Why the distinction? Because "the scale, nature, complexity of humanitarian need today demands that we move from a humanitarian sector... towards a system," Miliband says. "The need for so-called development and so-called humanitarian actors to work together is overwhelming, and clear outcomes are absolutely key to this."

 

Listen to the full podcast at the top of this page.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.