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5 Ways to Be a Better Humanitarian

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An internally displaced woman flees from drought in Dollow, Somalia. Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

By Annemieke Tsike-Sossah

World Humanitarian Day offers an opportunity to take stock of where the world stands on addressing humanitarian issues and highlight lessons for how to improve in the future. Here are five ways we all can commit to driving positive change for the world.


1. Commit to Maintaining a Livable Planet

Rapid environmental changes are threatening people's food sources, water and livelihoods. Climate change is at a crisis level, and we must commit to responding swiftly and effectively.

It is important to stay close to people's pressing, on-the-ground needs. But to maintain a liveble planet, we must also change how our global economy operates.

For example, We Mean Business, a coalition working with the world's most influential companies to take action on climate change, is spearheading a business case for decarbonization and helping the business sector to exemplify leadership. In addition, the European Climate Foundation strives to ensure that we fulfill Paris climate agreement targets and maintain the global temperature below 2°C of pre-industrial levels.

To enact meaningful change to combat the climate crisis, it's important that everyone acts as a climate advocate in their own organization, pushes for change and expresses solidarity with current and future generations who will share the planet.

2. Help the Most Vulnerable

To remove the threats to people's livelihoods and lives, the development sector should invest in long-term, durable solutions. Yet we must remain ready to fund short-term needs — disasters will always strike, and the most vulnerable communities will be worst affected.

For example, organizations such as the Start Fund and Médecins Sans Frontières are diminishing human suffering by responding to crises that could go unnoticed or be overshadowed by other events. But sometimes more support is needed to respond adequately to a humanitarian crisis.

The development sector must rely on a decision-making vehicle that allows humanitarian experts to allocate funding where they see the greatest need and provide core support to emergency organizations directly or through pooled funding mechanisms.

3. Invest in Refugee Livelihoods

Displacement has never before affected so many. Too many people are currently forced to keep moving until they find a safe place to call home.

We can support both refugee and host communities by working to dismantle barriers to job opportunities and invest in new ones, while abiding by the UN's Global Compact for Refugees.

For example, the Tent Alliance and the Business Refugee Action Network, two partnerships for mobilizing the private sector to support the livelihoods of refugees, show how the business sector is engaged and ready to be part of the solution.

Investing in refugee livelihoods boosts local markets and the economy. At the same time, investing in host community livelihoods helps them meet Sustainable Development Goals and hone skills for future generations to nurture peaceful communities.

4. Build Unprecedented Collaborations

One of the biggest opportunities in the humanitarian sector is mobilizing collective action. In bringing together well-positioned actors and thought leaders through efficient funding mechanisms, we can create unlikely alliances and partnerships.

Many organizations are effectively working to tackle climate change or support displaced people, and their best practices should be shared more. For example, the platform What Design Can Do exemplifies how to engage professional communities, such as designers, to apply their professional skills and creative thinking to complex issues, such as climate change.

Moving forward, organizations must embrace the natural inclination to evolve, constantly examine what they can do better, and encourage new collaborations with partners.

5. Develop a Sense of Urgency

We can all develop a sense of urgency by understanding the issues and learning how to engage.

At our foundation's 10-year anniversary conference held in June, the young Amsterdam artist Benjamin Fro gave a spoken word performance, capturing what was on many of our minds. "It might be hard, we might not always know how. But the right time to do right is always right now," he said.

Annemieke Tsike-Sossah is head of the special initiatives portfolio at the IKEA Foundation.

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