Humanitarian Agenda 2015Principles, Power, and Perceptions

The evolution of the humanitarian enterprise, the power relationships that it entails, and the perceptions of communities affected by crisis and conflict remain priority concerns of Tufts/FIC. Building on the evidence-based findings on the views from below, we intend to continue to engage in policy and institutional development actions with donors, UN agencies, and NGOs with a view to improving the effectiveness of assistance and protection activities for the most vulnerable.

Over the past three years, Tufts/FIC has conducted 12 country case studies on local perceptions of the work of humanitarian agencies. The objective was to understand, from the perspective of those most affected by crisis and conflict, whether humanitarian action was seen as responding to a universal imperative or as an externally-driven approach linked to Northern and Western agendas. The studies also shed light on the impact of terrorism and counterterrorism on humanitarian action, as well as the relationship between humanitarianism and politics and the security of agency staff and local communities. A synthesis report summarizing the findings of the field work and identifying critical issues for the future of humanitarianism was issued in March 2008 and distributed widely throughout the aid community and academia. The HA2015 team has collaborated with other institutions engaged in applied research in the same field, for example with the Listening Project of the Collaborative for Development Action, whose findings closely resonate with ours.

Building on the findings and considerable materials accumulated through the HA2015 research, our work will expand into three directions. We will follow up the HA2015 final report. A series of briefings, workshops, and policy initiatives are already underway to engage with policy-makers and agencies on the ground around the conclusions and recommendations of the report. These will take place in the US, Europe, and some of the countries covered by HA2015. In addition, by the fall of 2008 we will have completed follow-up reports that will look at the evolution of humanitarian policies and principles in three countries where humanitarianism is under threat: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sri Lanka. These updates will provide new and topical material to be used in dissemination and institutional support actions through mid/late 2009.

Another expansion is into a book project. Capitalizing on the research, a book on humanitarian action and the changing nature of vulnerability in the age of terror and globalization will be undertaken. The book will investigate the pressures on those who attempt to provide succor in the world’s disparate crises, whether man-made or exacerbated by human action. Using the HA2015 case studies as its raw material, the book will conduct a more ambitious exploration of what we have learned through our research in terms of global humanitarian issues, the evolution of the humanitarian enterprise, and the manipulations to which it is subjected.

A final direction will be towards understanding the non-like-minded. Our research has shown the disconnects between Western/Northern perceptions of humanitarianism and those of other cultures and traditions. Humanitarian agencies are often shunned or reviled because they are seen as instrumental to alien agendas, but also because they are misunderstood. We will hold consultations on how to engage with the non-like-minded with actors who are critical of the humanitarian discourse, including the vernacular media, religious groups, and political parties in countries in crisis. We will also have consultations with those holding non-Western perspectives of humanitarianism (China, India, Brazil, and others).


Country Studies


We hope that, as in the past, our work will contribute to a better understanding of the issues faced by communities affected by crisis and therefore improve the effectiveness of humanitarian responses. We expect to continue to be called upon by donors and agencies to assist them in their discussions on humanitarian policies and strategies and thus contribute directly to institutional change in these institutions.


This work relates directly to the institutional change activities under the “Ambiguity and Change” project. We expect to continue to collaborate with CDA (Collaborative for Development Action) as well as with local research groups in the countries concerned. A number of linkages are also being forged with academic institutions in the US and Europe.

Humanitarianism in Sri Lanka: Lessons Learned?
By Simon Harris | June 2010

Researchers at the Feinstein International Center (FIC) at Tufts University have embarked on a major two-year research project on Humanitarian Action and Politics. This project builds upon and expands on...

Read More
Afghanistan: Humanitarianism Unraveled?
By Antonio Donini | May 2010

Researchers at the Feinstein International Center (FIC) at Tufts University have embarked on a major two-year research project on Humanitarian Action and Politics. This project builds upon and expands on...

Read More