Resilience, Peace and Security

World Humanitarian Day: 5 leaders reflect on doing things differently

Red and white first aid and heart logo: Looking to the future on World Humanitarian Day 2022

Looking to the future on World Humanitarian Day 2022 Image: Unsplash/Claudio Schwarz

Wadia Ait Hamza
Senior Advisor, NA
Natalie Pierce
Head of Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Humanitarian Action

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  • World Humanitarian Day is marked on 19 August every year.
  • Many of the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers and Young Global Leaders are on the frontline of humanitarian crises.
  • These communities provide insight on how to move forward and strengthen the humanitarian response around the world.

Today is World Humanitarian Day, an annual appreciation of the collective efforts of humanitarian workers helping others overcome crises. The actions of the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers and Young Global Leaders communities, who are on the frontlines of many of the world's worst disasters, are a source of both pride and inspiration.

These leaders’ imperative to act in times of need is rooted in their commitment and dedication to improving the world and realizing a more inclusive, equitable and positive future. Involving more young changemakers in the prevention, preparedness, response and recovery of humanitarian crises can lead to more targeted and tailored emergency support.

World humanitarian day: Five young leaders

As we mark World Humanitarian Day we turn the spotlight on five young leaders whose contributions to communities in crisis are saving lives.

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Neema Kaseje

Neema Kaseje is a pediatric surgeon with the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders. For years, Kaseje's career has been dedicated to building pediatric surgical care delivery systems in Kenya, Haiti, Congo, CAR and Liberia. In Haiti, Kaseje was the only pediatric surgeon in the public sector. She scaled access to pediatric care by training junior doctors. As a result, her team doubled the number of children accessing lifesaving surgical care.

"We are in the midst of multiple devastating humanitarian crises," says Kaseje. "A pandemic that has killed more than 6 million people, as well as climate disasters, conflict and violence, which are driving innocent people away from their homes around the world. Today, 100 million people, mostly women and children, have fled persecution, violence, conflict, poverty and social unrest."

Kaseje says humanitarian crises have become more complex and protracted, giving more urgency for strengthened collective action, partnership and solidarity: "Current crises require leaders to adopt interventions that are comprehensive and integrated, so that interventions amplify and support each other, and are therefore more likely to be sustainable."

Moreover, Neema calls for "processes and interventions to be more inclusive of those ordinarily left behind, including women and children, who often bear the burden of humanitarian crises."


What is a YGL?

Islam Iqbal

Islam Iqbal, a social change leader in the Global Shapers Hub in Kabul, Afghanistan, reminds us:

"On World Humanitarian Day, the world can not be silent in the face of human rights violations, war crimes and depriving women of basic rights. It is time to lay the foundations for an inclusive, fair and representative future for all within the framework of international law, human rights and the United Nations Human Development Index."

Around the world, Global Shapers are working to support women and girls at the forefront of humanitarian crises.

They call for the protection of women's rights in Afghanistan and help Venezuelan women living as migrants, asylum seekers and refugees regroup with emergency assistance. They lead economic empowerment initiatives to support displaced Ukrainian women find good jobs and provide mental health support and policy response. In India, Global Shapers are leading community health and humanitarian initiatives to ensure women, girls and people who menstruate have access to clean and safe menstrual products.

Today we have the chance – the moral imperative – to do things differently, more inclusively, as we look to the future on World Humanitarian Day.

Brooke Ellison, Co-founder, VENture Think Tank

Brooke Ellison

Brooke Ellison is the co-founder of VENTure Think Tank and urges that disability inclusion should be equally considered in humanitarian responses, highlighting the absence of people with disabilities from important human rights discourse, which has consequences.

"We cannot devise poverty-reduction measures without acknowledging that people with disabilities are among the most persistently impoverished throughout the world," she says. "We cannot discuss improvements to education without understanding that children with disabilities experience barriers to schools and learning barriers while in the classroom. We cannot hope for equal opportunity in employment without admitting that unemployment for people with disabilities is a chronic challenge."

At 11, Ellison was hit by a car walking home on her first day of junior high school and was paralyzed from the neck down. Despite the life-long impact of her injuries, she dedicated her career to improving emergency response through special protocols during hurricanes, floods, fires and other natural disasters. These were designed to guarantee the safety and security of people dependent on ventilators and others with complex health conditions who need technological and medical intervention in their lives.

Ellison highlights, "Today we have the chance – the moral imperative – to do things differently, more inclusively, as we look to the future on World Humanitarian Day."


What is a Global Shaper?

Ayesha Veru Yu

Ayesha Vera Yu, CEO and Co-Founder of Advancement for Rural Kids (ARK), calls for leaders to "share their heart and their pain" when dealing with humanitarian issues. Through her work, Yu is helping rural communities rise against hunger by co-investing with them to secure a self-sustaining future.

She left her career in investment banking to lead a life with more purpose where she could pour her time, energy and heart into advancing people's lives.

Yu argues that having more "open" leaders can allow us "to understand each other more."

She says, "It would help the world create community and belongingness instead of isolation. It would encourage more love, trust and faith in fellow humans. It would free the world from the grip of fears – of losing out and of not being good enough – that lead to greed, oppression and wars. We need this much-needed healing to rebuild a world that is just, fair, equal and supportive of real happiness."


Rajiv Shah

Finally, Dr. Rajiv Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, calls us to "lead with your heart".

Shah was appointed USAID Administrator by President Obama in 2009, where he reshaped USAID's operations in more than 70 countries around the world by elevating the role of innovation. He also secured bipartisan support for the passage of the Global Food Security Act and the Electrify Africa Act, led the US response to the Haiti earthquake and the Ebola pandemic, and served on the National Security Council.

Shah encourages us to remember the words of Dr. Paul Farmer this World Humanitarian Day.

"Paul was an icon for good reason. Forty years ago, he built his first clinic in Cange, a remote part of Haiti. In the years since, whether caring for a patient, explaining a new initiative to a government or business leader, or offering advice to an aspiring change maker, Paul always led, practised and taught with his heart. Every day, those trying to make the world more humane should serve with the same humility, determination, compassion, love, and respect Paul did."

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