Shifting Humanitarianism

What does it mean to be a humanitarian? The Cambridge Dictionary puts it simply:

“(a person who is) involved in or connected with improving people's lives and reducing suffering.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, there were an uncountable number of societal and environmental issues triggering suffering and death around the world. Rapidly changing climate conditions have resulted in extreme weather, from drought to flooding, and have impacted access to adequate food and fresh water. Furthermore, political instability has caused anxieties and in-fighting in many regions. Despite many non-profits work to mitigate human suffering, these problems have been exacerbated by the lasting effects of the pandemic, leaving organizations work undone by insufficient monetary resources and the inability to easily access these regions during travel restrictions.

“Crises are moments of change,” the head of policy for Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP), Alice Obrecht says. “They make it impossible to act in the way you were acting before.”

Often, the word humanitarian is seen in the context of humanitarian assistance, humanitarian citizens, humanitarian principles, and humanitarian action, each contributing to larger efforts to the betterment of human life across the world, but what kind of humanitarian will be (re)born from the current situation our world faces?


One of the largest ways in which humanitarian efforts have changed during these times is the push for collaboration across borders; organizations have discovered the need to communicate and work with international peers in order to raise the necessary funding and promote international awareness. While some organizations focus on domestic aid, many of them have recognized the operational and logistical adaptions that must be made under this new normal, and the inevitability of working with a diversified network of organizations and individuals to ensure that assistance is delivered to those who need it most.


Another way the humanitarian sector is shifting is the embracing of younger people in aid efforts. Today, according to the Agenda for Humanity, half of the 1.4 billion people living in countries affected by crises and fragility are under the age of 20. Despite the willingness and passion of these young people to help their communities rebuild and thrive, their needs are often left unaddressed by humanitarian aid, and their vigor, leadership, understanding, and creativity is wasted in the larger goal of maximizing impact, with young women particularly at risk of being ignored. As in many social and political movements, the need to tap into this demographic to achieve an organizations goal cannot be understated, and many have realized the reach and impact younger people have as they create awareness for the causes they care about on social media and in their own circles.



While governments are constantly reevaluating and updating the strategies used to combat the effects of COVID-19 on their constituents, local non-profit organizations and young people are in a unique position, as global citizens, to help each other achieve our global humanitarian efforts by launching partner campaigns, embracing diplomacy, and spread awareness. It is up to us to encourage peace, share information, and eradicate our problems in a cooperative effort.