MSc International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies candidate, Emma Simons reflects on her time at UN OCHA’s Humanitarian Networks & Partnerships Week (HNPW), and makes suggestions for the next year’s gathering. We’ve all had that moment when we walk away from a conversation and five minutes later the perfect comeback pops into your head. Last week, I got accosted at the OCHA-led Humanitarian Networks & Partnerships Week (HNPW) in Geneva. A microphone was thrust into my hand, and I was asked two questions:

Describe the event in one word – To which I replied, ‘Variety’

and

What changes would you like to see at the next HNPW? – To which I replied, ‘uh dunno, nothing that I can think of’

….very insightful, I know.

Now my awkward, blushing little face is immortalised on social media (I bet you want the link) but, given the opportunity again, I would choose a different word and highlight a few things that the organizers could seek to change.

“Variety”

Sure, the subject matter was pretty varied if you’re into topics on humanitarian response. But I realised as the event went on, that I would have liked to have seen more variety in other ways.

Language: Over the two days that I was there, I went from session to session. In none of them did I see an interpreter in the little booths in the back of the room. The sessions were conducted entirely in English; fine for those with a strong command of the language, but how did it come to be that so few participants required an interpreter or translated documents? I was one of many white, English-speakers and I noticed that the majority of the voices on panels and in the room resembled my own.

Inclusivity: Following on from the above, the sessions often resembled a well-established club; panellists and observers referred to each other by first name and abbreviations were thrown around like code. More than once I had to frantically Google a combination of letters followed by ‘humanitarian’ in order to keep up with what was going on. In an event titled, ‘Communication and Community Engagement Initiative’ one panellist went unchallenged when he offhandedly recommended that organisations be cautious when implementing complaints and accountability mechanisms to populations, because it might throw up unwelcome results that would have to be acted upon.

Hang on a moment – read that last bit again. Doesn’t sound particularly inclusive or engaging, does it?

Assumptions: I’m sure many of us have heard the old saying that ‘to assume makes an ass out of u and me’. That’s why I was so surprised to hear, ‘well, let’s assume that it’s a sudden-onset natural disaster” come from one of the facilitators at a workshop. Particularly because the event was titled ‘Multi-stakeholder dynamics in sudden onset disasters, escalating emergencies and protracted crises and this title was projected onto a screen in HUGE letters. Given the ubiquity of buzzwords like ‘needs-based’ and ‘evidence-based’ in current humanitarian speak, the conversations and sessions seemed to be plagued by a lot of underlying assumptions and generalizations.

Availability: Despite being a week-long event, other commitments meant that I could only drop in for two days. Even on those days I missed some interesting sessions due to clashes. I asked around but it seemed like the organizers hadn’t arranged for many of the sessions to be recorded. It seems a shame that the conversations being had in the name of Humanitarian Partnerships & Networking would only be available to those in the room, in Geneva, at that time.

So, what would I say given the chance again?

In theory, something like, “I would like to see organisers and participants really challenge themselves to include a diverse range of voices. What if next year, each person on the regular invite list is able to bring a ‘plus one’, who would never normally make it onto that list, and know that their needs will be catered for?”

My word? “Potential”

But in practice, shamefully, I’d probably still stammer, clam up and go bright red. Then come back and write a blog about it.


Emma Simons is a MSc student on the International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies programme. Having studied Spanish and Portuguese during her undergraduate at Manchester University, she has spent the last five years working in humanitarian landmine clearance. Mostly recently stationed in Colombia, she has also worked in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Mozambique and Cambodia.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the International Development LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.