Resilience, Peace and Security

2016 saw world leaders come together to solve humanitarian crises. We must not lose momentum

Migrants stand in line to receive free food outside a derelict customs warehouse in Belgrade, Serbia January 9, 2017.

Image: REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Andrej Kirn
Head, International Organizations and Humanitarian Agenda, World Economic Forum Geneva
Mariah Levin
Executive Director, beVisioneers: The Mercedes Benz Fellowship
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

2016 could become known as the year when global leaders finally came together to restructure a broken and insufficient humanitarian system in light of record-breaking humanitarian crises.

We have all seen the devastating figures about forced displacement. One in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced or an asylum-seeker, and one in every four children lives in conflict and disaster zones. We are not only facing current tragedy, but ramifications that will last for generations to come.

For many of us, including the leaders of business, government and civil society, our world seems at a turning point, an emergent crisis of humanity which we cannot ignore. Much has been written about the juxtaposition of our “empathy deficit” and new ability to witness wars through social media. We cannot seem to process the complexity of the conflicts unfolding and why they are happening; most importantly, we do not feel empowered to stop them.

But 2016 was the year we saw truly leaders step up. Four major efforts brought together key decision-makers to find solutions to some of the most pressing humanitarian challenges. Those rejecting the status quo and driven to eliminate the suffering and chaos of war poignantly proposed reforms to increase the agility and capacity of the entire humanitarian architecture. These leaders continuously expressed a difficult message: despite increasing generosity, the sector is no longer able to cope with the exponential growth of demands from the ground.

In February, the Supporting Syria and the Region conference aimed to secure significant new resources for those affected by the Syria crisis. In May, and building on an almost two-year consultation process, the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit took place, bringing together a true representation of the humanitarian ecosystem’s diversity. In September, the Summit for Refugees and Migrants sought shared responsibility in managing people on the move globally. And just a day after, the Leader’s Summit on Refugees agreed on a number of solutions for refugees who face long-term displacement. These gatherings generated significant momentum: the Grand Bargain, the New York Declaration and numerous commitments, and new initiatives and pledges from donors, the private sector and humanitarian actors.

Now, at the beginning of 2017, we cannot afford to let this momentum dissipate. In order to truly translate these commitments into changed approaches and a transformative shift of and within the humanitarian ecosystem, we need to redouble our focus on action. As for all complex and uncertain scenarios, one sector cannot make these changes alone.

In 2015, the World Economic Forum began working with leaders from across sectors to develop a coherent conversation around humanitarian issues, starting at the 2016 Annual Meeting. This year, the Annual Meeting’s humanitarian programme seeks to inspire future-looking analysis to inform policies and interventions on issues such as the role of technology, data and connectivity as well as education, skills and innovative financing. Many of these efforts are driven by the Global Future Councils on the Humanitarian System and on Migration. In so doing, our goal is to mobilize a public-private community of practice to scale solutions and gain clarity on key challenges and opportunities that will disrupt the humanitarian and migration systems in the coming 10-15 years.

This January, as leaders consider their goals and priorities for the year, we present the humanitarian programme in Davos as a series of conversations and spaces to allow for a continued and balanced conversation between public and private sectors on these critical and existential issues. They will enable a better understanding about new initiatives, how and why the private sector can get involved, and what technologies will transform the humanitarian sector. We will aim to address the platforms required to respond to new realities of protracted crises and long-term displacement. Ultimately, the programme aims to leverage existing public-private partnerships and identify gaps for new ones, understanding how we can better achieve pluralism and open societies.

If all goes right, leaders at Davos will come together around new solutions, promote one another’s engagement and identify possibilities for new partnerships to positively disrupt and redesign the current humanitarian response framework. Our objectives are ambitious, and we cannot afford to fall short.

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