Aidex Voices

Over two days in mid-November at the famous art deco Brussels Expo in Belgium’s capital, the leading event of its kind for professionals in the international sector took place for a ninth time under the theme: The importance of inclusiveness to global progress – is the aid and development sector doing enough?


Opening the conference was Nadia Hadad representing the European Disability Forum (EDF) who stressed “persons with disabilities should be seen as experts and advocates, not only beneficiaries of humanitarian aid”. All necessary measures must be undertaken to ensure the protection and safety of people with disabilities in emergencies and natural disasters, as they are often most vulnerable.

The following keynote, delivered by Executive Director of International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), Ignacio Packer urged us to be angry at the state of today’s world, saying there is an urgency to translate clear parameters for the kind of humanitarian innovation we want to see in practice, to address real-time ethical dilemmas and to support ethical innovation on the ground. Packer asserted a “paradox that gives us hope” – with rapid technological and economic progress the opportunities created has led to unprecedented potential in finding solutions.

Nadia Hadad

Aid Innovation Challenge Live Final

Our Aid Innovation Challenge 2019 winner was Kevin White from Global Vision 2020 won for the USee Vision Kit - a simple, scalable and easy-to-use eyeglass self-refraction diagnostic tool that aims to deliver eyeglasses to the 2.5 billion people living without them!


Inclusive education through innovation

Director of Global Health Programmes at GSK, Daryl Burnaby discussed the company’s partnership with Amref Health Africa to better understand the challenges of improving healthcare access in underdeveloped settings where the infrastructure does not exist. He says, “Often people think innovation means fast results but it’s important to pause and take time to analyse context on the ground”.

Disability needs in a humanitarian and development context

CBM’s Emergency Communications Coordinator Gordon Rattray stated "It's the best time to be alive If you’re interested in disability and humanitarian action" as we are headed in a positive direction, with Fred Smith Head of Policy for Sightsavers saying changing policies are driving inclusive practice.

Disability inclusion panel

Catherine Naughton, Executive Director of EDF shared her advice on the different ways inclusive development can be framed, chiefly on the three pillars of accountability, engagement in leadership and disaggregated data. Only with said data, Rattray argues, can we hold organisations and their donors to account.

Erwin Telemans, Executive Director for Benelux Humanity & Inclusion urged the need for us to innovate but to use local materials: “We can’t just export the accessible devices we have here to other contexts.”  He says international NGOs can play an important facilitative role in ensuring people with disabilities are included in the decision-making process.

Delivering healthcare in conflict

Amany Qaddour, Regional Director for Syria Relief & Development highlighted the biggest issue over the past decade has been attacks on healthcare and the protection of aid workers. Given the largest gap in human resources being mental health support, Qaddour discussed holistic health models and described her organisation’s method of using customised, tailored packaged that have a minimum standard guaranteed from a rights-based and equitable approach. She emphasised the need to understand the quality of healthcare should not be compromised in conflict.

Technology and equality

A Butterfly Works representative argued we must look at disruptive innovation and work in framework of the realities of the people we are working with and not just our own. How can we see inclusive technology from a frame of a more process-oriented frame? The key is to engage with end users from the very beginning of a concept and not create anything in isolation.


Head of Strategy & Reporting at Norwegian Red Cross, Lars André Skari stated: “Technology will not save lives. It has to be the right technology used by the right people acquired to the right group. So how do we achieve technology efficacy? This is where inclusion comes in”. He said using tech responsibly is important and the key aspect of being able to do that and understanding people on the ground is crucial. Cross-communicating and partnering in different ways is essential when developing the right technology. One speaker raised the idea of learning from the open source community where sharing is seen as something positive and adds value to all parties. In the words of Ignacio Packer of ICVA, “none of us are as smart as all of us”.

The road to economic sustainable development

Global disability Inclusion Leader for IBM, Yves Veulliet explained why it is ‘business sense’ to make sure all people have equal access to education and employment.


Humanitarian Hero Award

To close the first day of AidEx, during the networking reception this year’s humanitarian hero was announced as Jess Markt, Disability, Sport & Inclusion Advisor of the ICRC for his incredible work coaching women’s wheelchair basketball in fragile contexts and long term commitment to inclusion.


Communications workshop

In our storytelling communications workshop, participants explored why we have lost faith in agents of long-term change and why there is a global crisis in trust. Regional Director for Syria Relief and Development Amany Qaddour shared six year old Leila’s story of child marriage to emphasise the importance of fine tuning individual perspectives to tailor humanitarian responses more adequately.

David Ongenaert of Ghent University delivered an insightful presentation analysing the use specifically of press releases about refugees by organisations. He shed light on how forcibly displaced people are dehumanised and often only represented as collectives with statistics which creates distance.


A key takeaway from one participant of the workshop looked at how, “some people still talk about communications as a marketing-first tool rather than an extension of the values or the actions of the organisation”.

Women’s empowerment

Speakers were in agreement about the need for more engagement from women in rural communities to feed into programmes, and the great imperative for more representation in leadership positions to tackle organisational culture issues and close the credibility gap.

Womens panel

LGBT+ employees and their security in the field

UN Globe President Gurchaten Sandhu moderated this panel of experts who were in consensus about the need for established internal structures must have policies, processes and procedures to offer LGBT+ employees legal protection from discrimination, such as recognition of their relationships with same sex partners, but never singling individuals out.

Crucially, it was understood that change must be driven from the top and mainstreamed throughout organisations in practical ways, as it takes leadership to stand firm for progressive values and implement such as the norm. Recruiting LGBT+ staff in the first place is integral to ensuring people affected by crisis can be assisted appropriately to their needs whatever their sexuality, which is why organisations have every responsibility to do so.

LGBT panel

Other features

On the Danish pavilion we heard a ‘Ted Talk’ on the climate crisis - about how the entire humanitarian sector could save $0.5 billion every year by switching its operations to renewable energy, which would also contribute to climate change mitigation, and in turn limit future displacements.

Open Eurasia Book Forum & Literature Festival teamed up with #AidEx2019 to draw attention to humanitarian issues currently affecting most post-Soviet countries.


#2030isnow campaign promoted the 17 goals at the core of the UN’s agenda for sustainable development.

Read blogs by participants and further News here:


Mental Health in Conflict: The Case of Yemen

Brussels Hosts VIII Open Eurasian Literary Festival (OEBF -2019)

GIZ@AidEx: Showcasing Transitional Development Assistance in Chad and Turkey

Tajik contemporary writers present works at international festival in Brussels

RPS Partnership blog

Qatar showcases water projects at AidEx 2019 – Gulf Times

Syria Relief blog

White's invention wins top honors again

QC’s efforts to end sanitation, water crisis on cue at AidEx


The Open Eurasian Literary Festival brought together writers from 25 countries in the capital of the European Union (Brussels)

Humanitarian aid worker applauds Kuwait's assistance for Syria  - Kuwait News Agency

Aidex 2020