Ideas to Action:

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August 7, 2019

Five Takeaways on the Future of Humanitarian Reform

The world’s humanitarian aid architecture is growing outdated. Relief programs are most effective when they are integrated, locally owned, and demand driven. But humanitarian action in the 21st century remains constrained by a 20th-century aid model.

Cover of Struggling with Scale: Ebola’s Lessons for the Next Pandemic
May 9, 2019

Struggling with Scale: Ebola’s Lessons for the Next Pandemic

The next global pandemic is a matter of when, not if. Preparing for this inevitability requires that policy­makers understand not just the science of limiting dis­ease transmission or engineering a drug, but also the practical challenges of expanding a response strategy to a regional or global level. Achieving success at such scales is largely an issue of operational, strategic, and policy choices—areas of pandemic preparedness that remain underexplored.

Cover of Struggling with Scale: Ebola’s Lessons for the Next Pandemic
May 9, 2019

Struggling with Scale: Ebola’s Lessons for the Next Pandemic (brief)

The next pandemic is a matter of when, not if. Preparing for this inevitability requires that policymakers understand not just the science of limiting disease transmission or engineering a drug, but also the practical challenges of expanding a response strategy to a regional or global level. Achieving success at such scales is largely an issue of operational, strategic, and policy choices—areas of pandemic preparedness that remain underexplored.

Humanitarian workers in the DRC load supplies out of a truck
April 19, 2019

The Dos and Don’ts of USG Humanitarian Reorganization

The proposed FY 2020 budget changes would be the most significant overhaul of USG humanitarian structures in decades. The proposal in its current form is unlikely to get much traction in Congress, where it is seen on both sides of the aisle as dramatically weakening US leadership on refugees. In light of other moves by the administration—like slashing refugee resettlement numbers and treating asylum seekers roughly—that is a legitimate and vital concern. There is ample reason to approach the proposal with caution, particularly the idea of stripping away the refugee bureau’s resources.

 
The Nepalese army unloads disaster relief supplies after the Nepal earthquake.  Photo by: Kashish Das Shrestha for USAID
December 12, 2018

Joint Humanitarian Operations: How to Bring US Humanitarian Assistance into the 21st Century

The US has long sought enhanced coherence, quality, and efficiency from its UN and NGO partners; it is time that the US government place these same demands upon itself. As the US Government grapples with how best to reconfigure its humanitarian engagement, it should adopt a Goldwater-Nichols approach: a strategy that does not collapse together the distinctive institutional roles and strengths of USAID and State, but rather unifies US humanitarian field operations and policy engagement and builds dramatically greater interoperability between their models.

emergency medical supplies
October 23, 2018

Fit for the Future: Envisioning New Approaches to Humanitarian Response

For more than a decade, reform efforts have attempted to put crisis-affected people at the center of humanitarian response, and make the system more cohesive and responsive. These reforms have produced ever-heavier coordination systems and technocratic guidance, but have targeted the symptoms of the system’s shortcomings rather than the causes. Traditional humanitarian response remains plagued by deep power imbalances, needless rivalries between organizations, and perverse institutional incentives. A new approach is badly needed—one that builds on the aspirations of earlier reform efforts while explicitly tackling the red-line issues that have long undermined them. A new multi-year research initiative at the Center for Global Development (CGD) aims to do just that: develop concrete, pragmatic, and actionable reform options to overhaul the outdated power structures and institutional incentives that have long skewed the humanitarian system’s behavior.

Cover of "Rethinking the Humanitarian Business Model"
May 30, 2018

Rethinking the Humanitarian Business Model

Disrupting the traditional humanitarian business model holds risks that must be managed carefully. If this disruption proceeds in an ad hoc manner, it could harm humanitarian effectiveness. Donors should reexamine their funding practices and work closely with aid groups to ensure these changes deliver constructive outcomes for populations in need.