Home Diplôme d’Études Supérieures en Leadership Humanitaire (DESLH): Impact Study

This report presents the main findings from an impact study of the first six cohorts of the Diplôme d’Études Supérieures en Leadership Humanitaire (DESLH).

The DESLH is an intensive and challenging postgraduate humanitarian leadership development course, delivered in French and aimed at humanitarians working in West and Central Africa.

Globally, there are few—if any—university-accredited graduate certificates for humanitarian leaders offered in French. The DESLH is therefore a rare and potentially unique opportunity for humanitarians in West and Central Africa to engage in a Francophone university-level course designed to recognise and strengthen local capacity and impact for humanitarian action.

208 students have graduated from the DESLH since the first cohort was launched in 2017, including 138 men and 70 women. The reasons behind this gender imbalance are explored more fully in the Gender Report published alongside this Impact Study.

DESLH is a unique and exciting experience. It has captivated our whole being: emotionally and professionally. I am a new person who can develop and bring about change in all aspects of my environment. I will recommend this DESLH to everyone I know as it fully meets all my expectations in terms of leadership.

Cohort 6 DESLH graduate (post-course KAP)

Key findings

Leadership Development and the Humanitarian Response

Central to the DESLH theory of change is that by equipping humanitarians—particularly from local and national organisations—with effective leadership knowledge, behaviours and skills, the DESLH will contribute to more coordinated, evidence-based, and effective humanitarian response.

The DESLH is improving graduates’ knowledge of the humanitarian system, with impressive gains in graduates’ awareness and understanding of core resources. Graduates also demonstrate impressive gains in their knowledge of core humanitarian skills and subjects, humanitarian ethics, principles and values, localisation, history of humanitarian aid, humanitarian system actors, and humanitarian strategy and operational leadership.

In terms of impact beyond the course, graduates report sharing their knowledge and skills with colleagues and professional networks after the DESLH.

The DESLH is having a positive impact on graduates’ career progression in diverse ways. Graduates report that having a French-language university-accredited qualification and increased leadership confidence has helped them achieve promotions, while coaching within the course is helping with define career goals.

Intensive learning for leadership development

The DESLH provides an intensive learning environment, in which multiple learning activities combine holistically to support a personalised leadership development experience. There is strong evidence the DESLH is advancing students’ humanitarian leadership capabilities and capacities through this intensive learning design, including through simulations, coaching, and critical reflection tools.


Consistent with the DESLH theory of change, the program aims to contribute to meaningful inclusion and representation of national and local NGOs in the international system, through recruiting local and national NGO staff as participants, providing a course delivered wholly in French, offering tailored fee structures to subsidise local and national participants, and addressing localisation directly in the curriculum.

Through the DESLH, graduates are improving their knowledge of localisation and related topics. More striking, however, is the fact graduates are implementing this newfound localisation knowledge to change their professional practices and priorities once back in their working contexts.


The DESLH is providing an effective form of leadership development which combines intensive learning  experiences with highly individualized coaching and critical reflection
to support participants through a leadership development journey that continues well  after the course ends.

The flow-on effect of this experience on the humanitarian system is amplified through graduates’ role modelling new leadership behaviours, leading new initiatives to support localisation, sharing key resources with colleagues, and progressing through the humanitarian system.

As a leadership development course, however, the  DESLH makes the greatest impact through the quality of learning experiences it provides students.  For this net impact to continue, the DESLH needs to secure funding to provide future cohorts. Investments in future research and evaluation—such  as further longitudinal study of graduates—would
also be beneficial in quantifying and qualifying the medium and longer-term impact of the DESLH on graduates’ behaviours, career progression, and impact within the system.

Academic contributors

Partner organisations