Aidex Voices

Due to the global pandemic, the physical versions of AidEx and Development2030 had to be postponed to 2021. However, as we had so much high-quality content already compiled for these conferences, we decided to share this with our community by hosting a webinar series across the 18-19 November. All sessions focused around 'Response, recovery and resilience: optimising humanitarian responses and development programmes to manage future global crises’. We were delighted to welcome over 2,900 members of the aid and development community to 11 sessions featuring 50 inspirational speakers.

For the opening keynote we were honoured to welcome Preet Kaur Gill, the Member of Parliament for Birmingham, Edgbaston, Britain’s first female Sikh MP, and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. Preet’s keynote set the context for the webinar series by looking at the approaches to global threats and risk management. With an expected reduction from 0.7% to 0.5% of spending towards aid and development and with the uncertainty of a deal or no deal Brexit, how can we make sure funding will not just go towards COVID-19 projects? Preet discussed the importance of making sure no-one is left behind and the overall need to focus on resilience and transparency.

Next up we heard from Lisa Reilly and Léa Moutard from GISF, Peter Wood from Oxfam International, Fadi Hallisso from Basmeh & Zeitooneh and Tanya Wood from CHS Alliance. This panel discussion was focused around ‘managing security risks in the new global order’. The panel looked at the major physical and psychological risks for NGO staff due to the pandemic, and the need to make aid as local as possible to tackle crises. One of the major issues is the insufficient budget for overall staff security that work in remote or high-risk territories across the world, and due to this, workers are often left to manage their own security. They discussed how we need to make a commitment to these people and there are a number of things that need to be considered for this including diversity of staff, as not everyone working in the same team has the same needs. It is important for organisations to understand the duty of care and evaluate who needs the most protection– security is the responsibility of all and any line manager.

The third webinar of the day was run in partnership with Direct Aid, an NGO who are interested in developing the poorest places in Africa. They were joined by The United Mission for Relief and Development, the Director General of the National Civil Protection Committee Benin, and the Ministry of Health Chad. This session looked at ‘how NGOs are combatting the COVID-19 pandemic’. They discussed the need for collaboration between agencies and NGOs and how important it is to expand your network ensuring you have volunteers who have faster access to the community. They also stated the importance of collective work and partnerships. They discussed how they had partnered with Direct Aid which has enabled them to build hospitals, provide communities with protective equipment and education. They agreed, especially in the current climate, how important two heads are compared to one.

We then moved on to discuss ‘the impact of pandemics across Africa’. This highly engaging panel discussion was moderated by Cyprian Yobera founder of the Kanzi Kenya Foundation, and included panellists from Journeyman International, Inc, Epicentre/MSF, Leonard Cheshire and the Njeri Maria Foundation and Tiwale. They discussed case studies from Rwanda and Malawi. In Rwanda after two months of lockdown, the country experienced heavy rainfall which caused landslides. People faced extreme difficulties getting to places. This created a situation where more people needed help. In Malawi, the whole country only had twenty ventilators to offer to patients. Schools closed for a long time and girls started to consider not going back to school but to get married instead. Teenage weddings and pregnancies are sharply on the rise again. There have however been some positives, such as COVID re-starting the discussion of accessibility for people with disabilities. Increasingly new hospitals that were built, or hospitals that were expanded due to the pandemic, had the need of people with disabilities in mind.

The next webinar discussed the important topic of ‘SDG-17 and cross-sectoral partnerships’. The moderator Caroline Gertsch from the Amani Institute Kenya was joined by speakers from VisionFund International, Absa Bank Kenya, FSG, DAI’s Sustainable Business Group and UN Relations and Partnerships. They discussed how partnerships need transparency, trust, and open communication to be successful. We are now experiencing second generation partnerships, which break down the barriers of working with private sectors. Good partnerships take time, patience, and trust and all sides need to get to know each other thoroughly and understand each other’s methods of working.

Strong community engagement is critical to find the right solutions and ways to work amongst the community and the need of support from the local governments so that projects can become self-sufficient in the long run. In order to achieve the SDGs, we need more partnerships, as a mix of organisations from different backgrounds bring a wider variety of experience and knowledge to the table. The world is not moving fast enough to reach the 2030 SDGs and we must honestly ask ourselves what shifts would be needed to reach these goals. One point would be increasing the number of collaborations amongst organisations and more streamlining across partnerships.

The last session of the day was in partnership with AIM-X and looked at the ‘global supply chain challenges of the current pandemic – the future of PPE procurement’. The moderator for this session was Clare Forestier, Speak Up Event Hosting & Communication Training, she was joined by speakers from H-Source, AIM-X Foundation, Wateraid Bangladesh, Walker International Transportation LLC and Ecodesk. They discussed the issues with PPE distribution and how PPE became the ‘hottest commodity on the planet’ in 2020 and how tools to save human lives should not become a hot commodity that can only be purchased by the richest nations. They concluded by stating the importance of international aid organisations being prepared and not waiting till the last minute to order PPE.

Day two

We kicked off day two with a session in partnership with Amani Institute moderated by Francesca Folda Global Communication Director at Amani Institute looking at ‘the role of communications amidst a global pandemic’. She was joined by speakers from NSoJ, CIPESA and Dataninja. They discussed how the world faces information overload with too much digital information, numbers, and stats. It is difficult for people to make sense of the severity of a situation when these numbers can be twisted or used for propaganda. Due to this we now face a global wave of mistrust and a major increase of conspiracy theories. Communications teams need to be less PR focussed and more data scientist focussed, especially in times of a global pandemic as numbers without context are not data and they can be dangerous. They gave the audience some useful insights including the importance of the distribution method for data and that distribution should be timely and in open format (No more pdf!). In a media environment without boundaries, content should be labelled geographically, as even the pandemic story is not a single Global story. They also said how important it is to ensure you provide affordable access to the message considering literacy, languages, and platforms. They concluded by informing everyone to share responsibly.

Next up was a keynote discussion with MacDella Cooper. MacDella is a philanthropist, politician, and activist for women’s and girls’ rights in Liberia. Macdella talked about the biggest challenge for young girls in Liberia today being a lack of access to education. Many girls are living on the streets, abandoned by their own parents. Culturally, families care about carrying on a family’s name, which is why boys are more likely to be looked after, especially by poorer families that may not have the means to care for all their children. This was the reason why MacDella set up the MacDella Cooper Foundation. Through her, foundation orphanages and foster homes were set up across the country and major funding towards local schools was generated. They aim to give children access to healthcare, education, and food and at the same time increase their protection from violence and abuse. She discussed the impact COVID-19 has had on the communities in Liberia, including MacDella’s academy. A big problem is that many teachers cannot come to school to teach. It has changed society forever and destroyed Liberia’s economy. People are facing a hard time with the banking system and struggle to get money from the banks. The situation is almost as tough as the civil war that was raging across the country in the 1990s. Liberia is also still facing major gender inequality issues across all parts of society. For example, the higher constitution’s language does not even mention women. A stark reminder that there is always more to be done and the efforts of MacDella and her foundation’s work continues to be necessary.

The next topic focused on ‘the role of the private sector in forced displacement contexts’. This session was organised by Emanuela Paoletti and moderated by Mohbuba Choudhury both independent researchers conducting studies on this topic. The session featured speakers from, UNHCR, NaTakallam and the University of Oxford. They started by discussing that we still have too many countries that, despite their generosity, do not allow refugees to unleash their full potential. Refugees can contribute, and they should be supported in contributing to society. Most refugees today live in protracted displacement, and so we must look outside the classic “humanitarian box” for long-term solutions by going beyond the classic short-term support. They also discussed the importance of leveraging the digital economy and preparing refugee tutors for the future of digitised work. COVID has had a big impact and the private sector needs to create opportunities for additionality in funding, including opportunities for refugees’ enterprise. It is important to understand that refugees in urban areas require different kinds of services and employment opportunities. They also echoed that the private sector needs to ensure it does not crowd out local enterprises and SME’s to facilitate and encourage local investment. They concluded by discussing how best answers come from those closest to the problem of unrealised refugee potential.

Next, we had a high level ‘in conversation’ style discussion with speakers from UNOPS, GIZ and DG DEVCO all focused around ‘the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus’. The need for the Nexus approach is particularly relevant as the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the numerous links between the humanitarian, development, and peace dimensions. They began this talk by discussing how creating better coordination and strategic thinking is key to the HDP Nexus. They stated the importance of less developed countries needing a triple nexus approach. This approach has already started to be implemented in countries such as Myanmar, Yemen, and Afghanistan. For example, in Myanmar over one million people are affected by crisis. It is one of the least developed countries in the world and has the longest running civil war in the world. Which is why it is a perfect example of a nation that needs an approach that includes humanitarian, development, and political/peace aspects to help.

When discussing strategies and funding processes it requires actors from sectors from all three pillars. The objectives should be conflict-solutions and lasting peace. There are of course challenges: one of the greatest being the different ways that humanitarian and development organisations work and often even use a different language to approach things, which means it can be difficult to communicate and work together effectively. Moreover, the Nexus requires working with CSOs to build the resilience of local communities and two issues with that are the space for civil society is noticeably shrinking, particularly in certain contexts and CSOs are progressively mutating in service providers rather than ‘voice’ providers for the affected communities.

The final session of the series was focused on ‘financing crises quickly, adequately and fairly’. This session was moderated by Mike Shanley from Konektid International and featured speakers from IIED, MZN International, Kennebunkport Climate Initiative and Athena Infonomics. The discussion began by looking at crisis response into resilient recovery. COVID saw longer supply chains. In Cambodia, for example, orders from western companies stopped and the effect of this was cancelled orders and workers ending up on the streets. However, some forward-thinking companies transitioned their supply chains into other opportunities, such as the production of masks or other PPE. They discussed the importance of adapting business models and moving beyond philanthropy. As donor funding is inherently unsustainable, one needs to move away from this and look at new funding opportunities.

Summing up

The two-day webinar series provided valuable insight into the ways COVID-19 has affected the aid and development community. Some of the main talking points from the sessions included the need for aid to be local, the importance of collaboration between agencies and NGOs and the huge impact COVID-19 has had on top of other disasters in less developed countries. Another important takeaway was regarding the need for communication to be less PR focussed and more data scientist focussed. Different and new approaches are even more necessary such as business models moving beyond philanthropy and donor funding and the focus of the Humanitarian Peace Nexus.

We would like to say thank you to our webinar series partners and sponsors - Amani Institute, Direct Aid, Aim-X, UNOPS and GISF. If you are interested in hosting a webinar in 2021 please get in touch with the team at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

You can watch the webinar sessions back here