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Postdoctoral fellowships "Humanitarian Transition : the Stakes of Autonomy"

The French Red Cross Foundation, a research organisation dedicated to humanitarian and social action, carries the will of the French Red Cross to commit to an effort of analysis with regard to suffering and ways of addressing it, anticipating the needs of vulnerable populations in France and in developing countries, and supporting new models for operations, training and capacity reinforcement. As such, the Foundation has decided to launch a call for applications for a postdoctoral fellowship on the transformations of international humanitarian aid.

Research Theme

Humanitarian aid is increasingly coming under attack as a representation of the Western essence of solidarity between developed and developing countries, based on well-defined principles and international law and relying on funding from the richest countries. The so-called “aid-recipient countries” are expressing a growing will for autonomy in the management of actions affecting their populations. They no longer wish to depend on international aid, which is seen as too asymmetrical and far removed from the concept of partnership, and as favouring neither development nor poverty reduction. Some countries which formerly received international humanitarian aid now play an active role in the management of humanitarian interventions within their territory. Others are regaining control of project implementation, funding streams, and images and narratives which concern their populations, some going so far as to bring about a real “state humanitarianism”. Elsewhere, the rise of new sponsors is reconfiguring relationships, aiming to make inroads into the international and media fields, which have long remained the preserve of Western countries.

The humanitarian field has become a stage for “inverted innovations”, especially in Africa, a real laboratory of humanitarian alternatives where local initiatives can be observed everywhere. Private insurances such as African Risk Capacity (ARC), launched by the African Union, have been created to insure states against the risk of natural disasters and damages caused by extreme weather episodes. There are increasing numbers of local, denominational and community NGOs, who, like their states, are expressing the will to take back control over the aid delivered to their own populations in their own countries, and to be fully in charge of operations. These NGOs are also increasingly powerful, such as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), which was the first NGO in the world to count more than 100 000 employees. The use of new technologies is also developing, by means of programmes designed in close collaboration with national states (delivery of blood by drones in Rwanda, the IEDA project in Burkina Faso, etc.) In the light of their apparent potential for autonomisation, these innovations from beneficiary countries raise the question of the role and place of international actors, by opening up new possible courses of action outside of the traditional system of international solidarity. 

This new situation has rendered the field of humanitarian international action more complex, even as it must manage needs on an unprecedented scale, namely linked to demographic pressures, the uncontrolled growth of peri-urban areas, protracted crises and armed conflicts, chronic underdevelopment, and increasingly frequent and destructive natural disasters due to climate change. Above all, these difficulties require humanitarian aid to change substantially, since they reveal a transition period which was not anticipated and which represents the evolution from a paradigm of Western-centric solidarity in terms of resources and practices, to a new and much more complex multipolar model linked to concepts of human development, sustainable development, social change and the confluence of sometimes divergent interests from a variety of actors (sponsors, businesses, institutions, media, etc.).

Arriving at a more “local’ and decentralised response to humanitarian needs has therefore appeared on the political agenda as a possible response to the problems facing international humanitarian aid, and the need to reform it. Between 2009 and 2013, local and national NGOs received only 1.6% of humanitarian aid allocated by international sponsors to NGOs, which represents 0.2% of total humanitarian aid, according to research carried out by Development Initiatives (Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2014). The report by the General Secretary of the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, and the Great Bargain which resulted from it, called for responses to be “as local as possible, as international as necessary”, with the international humanitarian system committing more to investing in the capacity of local organisations to work together with their international counterparts.

The “localisation of aid” is generally defined as a collective process involving different parties implicated in the humanitarian system (donors, United Nations agencies, NGOs) aiming to return local actors (local authorities or civil societies) to the centre of the humanitarian system, with a more significant and more central role. As well as allowing for a more efficient and effective humanitarian response; the long-term goal of “localisation” is to reinforce the resilience of communities affected by crises by establishing links with development actions. In practice, in the field, certain international humanitarian actors, such as Alima, for example, have been developing new operational models (in terms of partnerships, skills-transfer, access to funding, human resources, governance, etc.), and powerful innovations in the response to the needs of affected populations, such as cash transfers, in order to be more efficient. Other actors are now working to identify innovative funding solutions which aim to reinforce humanitarian interventions carried out locally (START Fund Bangladesh, Oxford Myanmar).

There is, however, no clear consensus regarding the meaning of a truly “local” response, in theory or in practice, and there are very few incentives to promote such a response in the framework of a system that is built around the concept of structural and cultural centralisation. As a result, although they are on the rise, initiatives along these lines remain marginal, and the first lessons drawn from the discussion about the “localisation” or “fragmentation” of aid show the heated debate surrounding the way in which the articulation of the “local” and “global” dimensions of the international solidarity system translates in the field in terms of efficiency, of coordination between external and internal aid mechanisms, and of the relevance of aid to the needs of the populations. These highlight the necessity:

  • of overcoming the ignorance – and thereby certain stereotypes – surrounding local humanitarian actors (difficulties, practices, points of view, values…), especially the ways in which the system of transnational actors and organisations impact on their methods of functioning and on their actions;
  • of understanding the realities and effects of autonomisation strategies implemented by international actors in the stated context of the “localisation of aid”;
  • of grasping the conditions for the emergence of institutional and operational innovations in beneficiary countries and their impact on populations, on the traditional international solidarity system, and on its actors;
  • and finally, of studying how such initiatives – wherever they come from – can be capitalised on in order to create the conditions for the development of local actors and transnational networks in different contexts.

The aim of the “Humanitarian Transition” call is to enable an understanding of these new models which would allow for consideration of an autonomisation of local aid actors, and more generally, of the tenets of humanitarian transition, which prefigures a new paradigm, by understanding the conditions of its realisation in different countries. It is an invitation to explore the obstacles and perspectives of locally-directed action and to suggest directions for reforming the contemporary humanitarian response. Participants are especially encouraged to examine examples of best practices, particularly with regard to community engagement, the link between emergency aid and development, and between humanitarian and social action. As in many sectors undergoing periods of extreme change, the ethical approach can become a guide for action, as well as an object of study for researchers. This is why we will particularly be looking for proposals that shed light on the ethical dimension, and methods of applying it in the field.

Geographical Research Areas

These themes can be addressed in a geographical area made up of one or several countries. The Foundation has identified 14 priority countries for the purposes of this call:

  • Benin
  • Lebanon
  • Burkina Faso
  • Madagascar
  • Cambodia
  • Mali (for resident researchers only)
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Morocco
  • Ethiopia
  • Niger (for resident researchers only)
  • Guinea
  • Senegal
  • Kenya
  • Togo

The target countries represent empirical starting-points for research. They do not refer to nationality criteria for eligibility.

Access to the field will be conditional on a precise risk evaluation submitted with the application and updated before departure, with prior reference to the recommendations of the French Foreign Ministry.

Key Dates

  • 6 February 2019: Launch of the call
  • 21 March: Deadline for preregistration
  • 18 April: Deadline for application
  • 20 June: Results are announced
  • 1 Sept. 2019: Start of research
  • 1 Sept. 2020: Work delivered
Application date
Date of residence
Duration
1 year
Country
Europe : France (Paris Île-de-France)
Discipline
Humanities : Philosophy
Social sciences : Demography, Economics, Environmental Sciences, Geography, Law, Political science, Social Anthropology, Sociology
Other : Medicine
Required post-doc experience
Between 0 and 10 years
Award granted
€ 17.000
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