Paul recently spoke at a one day workshop at Somerset House on the future of humanitarian response, convened by the Humanitarian Futures Think Tank at King’s College. The event brought together senior leaders from across the humanitarian system to explore the potential for system-change innovation in response to an accelerating crisis landscape. Participants included leaders from the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, strategic advisers including Deloittes, NGOs and their consortia, and private sector actors including the re-insurance industry.
I was recently asked an intriguing question that has stayed with me over the past few weeks: what will the NGO of the future look like?
My answer in a nutshell is that whereas the NGO of the past was something that you chose to support because of the great work that they do, the NGO of the future is likely to be something that you turn to because it can support you in doing something worthwhile yourself.
That theme drove my recent intervention at the Humanitarian Futures programme, in which I argued that faced with a gravely accelerating crisis landscape, the only way to achieve a humanitarian response proportionate to the scale of the challenge is to unlock breakthrough levels of collaboration and open participation in resilience building, crisis preparedness and humanitarian response.
To achieve this goal will require a substantial re-imagination of the humanitarian system, both in terms of re-designing the institutions that currently form the system and in terms of re-drawing the boundaries of what we consider the system to be. The World Humanitarian Summit of 2016 is an example of an initiative that has the opportunity to provide a focal point for radical innovation and system change, and that I hope will provide a platform for developing and showcasing new forms of collaboration, open participation and partnerships that reach well beyond traditional actors to include the private sector and civil society.
The year’s ahead will need to see a proliferation of remote assistance programmes, delivering specialised support and expertise from a distance; volunteer networks capable of “scrambling” to provide reservist support in the case of a crisis; more efficient matching systems connecting the needs of affected populations and those who support them with resources and capabilities distributed across other sectors; new business models for NGOs with leading NGOs playing new roles in convening, catalysing, co-ordinating and potentially even certifying emergency response programmes; more open source crisis anticipation, preparedness and response planning for a broader range of groups and institutions; and an increase in the incidence of alliances among unlikely bedfellows.
Perhaps we’ll know that we’ve succeeded in reaching right across society in taking responsibility for crisis response when the name of the video game every child wants for Christmas sounds a bit more like Save Your City and a bit less like Grand Theft Auto?