Interview with Randolph Kent: Future of the humanitarian sector

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Who is the humanitarian sector of tomorrow? Is it Oxfam or the big business?

The leading humanitarian analyst, Randolph Kent, says the humanitarian sector’s main challenge in the 21st Century will  involve a fundamental change in order to think more strategically  and  be more  anticipatory to meet the new dynamics and dimensions of more frequent mega-crises such as Japan and Pakistan.

Randolph Kent is the Director of the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King´s College, London.

Read interview transcript
Addressing future humanitarian challenges

We’ve become very used to responding in the short-term. What we fail to do is to see our roles as far more strategic, long-term planning, and this will become increasingly important as the types of disasters, as well as their dynamics and dimensions begin to change, and we’re beginning to see that already. We also think to need more and more about prevention and preparedness, we have to think about societies in terms of resilience. All of these factors will require a fundamental change in the way the humanitarian sector not only sees itself, but thinks.

Climate change

There is a real lack of dialogue between the scientists and the humanitarian policy maker. If climate science and the policy makers are ever to really have an impact, it won’t necessarily be at the level of the policy maker and the scientist, it’ll be at the level of the end user. It will be the agriculturist in Bolivia, in Iowa, somewhere in Africa, somewhere in Asia, and unless that agriculturist, for example, can really understand what the impact of climate change might be, we will have failed, both in terms of an effective science policy dialogue, and as humanitarian policy makers.

Leadership in humanitarian aid

True leadership and leadership within an organisation may not necessarily be compatible, there may be a real paradox that one has to deal with, namely, the true leader in the humanitarian sector may have to go well beyond his or her organisation to be a leader for humanitarian cause.

2010 lessons learnt

If you take a look at the issue of the Japanese earthquake, the tsunami, the earthquake itself and then the meltdown, what does that say about the dynamics about of humanitarian crises in the future? And what, if you take a look at Pakistan, where 20 million people were affected by this crisis, does it say about the dimensions? So I think what 2010 and 2011 certainly demonstrate is that indeed the types, dimensions and dynamics of humanitarian crises have changed. Who is the humanitarian sector? Is it the Oxfams, is it the whole NGOs? Is it the OCHAs and the UNICEFs? Is it the bilaterals and the Good Humanitarian Donorship? Or is it also the corporate sector, the military, the diaspora, the non-state actors, how do you define the humanitarian actor, given the tremendous burden that we will all have to face when dealing with the humanitarian crises of the future?