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With the severity and frequency of humanitarian emergencies increasing across the world, governments and humanitarian agencies are facing significant challenges in responding to the needs of those affected.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, an estimated 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection in the coming year—a 40% increase on 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19.

The Centre for Humanitarian Leadership was created to answer this increasing need with the recognition that appropriate humanitarian responses can only be strengthened by strengthening the humanitarian workforce.

The Centre is a great example of collaboration and philanthropy in action. It was officially established in 2015 as a partnership between Deakin University and Save the Children Australia, with significant funding of nearly €6 million from the IKEA Foundation, without which the Centre would not exist. It began by offering a Graduate Certificate of Humanitarian Leadership to train aid workers for the field and has since added a Masters of Humanitarian Assistance. Today, the Centre partners with more than two dozen organisations around the world including the IKEA Foundation, USAID and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) who generously contributed a transformational gift of $968,370.

This support has contributed to the establishment and implementation of the Graduate Certificate in Humanitarian Health, helped PhD students and provided financial support to other students from low- and middle-income countries.

The Centre’s success in teaching is built on creating a hybrid system between humanitarian practitioners, academics, students and stakeholders. Its courses combine signature Deakin methods of distance and online learning, intensive campus sessions and solid research.

“We’ve just launched our sixteenth cohort of the English version, which will complete this year and we are about midway through our fourth cohort of the Francophone program which has received funding from USAID,” said Associate Professor Mary Ana McGlasson, Director of the Centre.

Students who might not have access to graduate certificates in their home countries are given the opportunity to achieve a qualification from an Australian university that is immediately applicable to their career.

—Mary Ana Glasson, CHL Director

“Since the Centre began more than 600 students have graduated from the two programs. Their backgrounds range from early to mid-career aid workers to those with years of management experience. They may work for the UN, international non-governmental organisations or local entities.”

“Two-thirds of the students have come to the program from countries that are considered lower on the development index. They are able to access our courses because of a special pricing package developed by Deakin and the Centre and as a result of generous support from donors and partners who fund scholarships or subsidise our courses. We also have hundreds of volunteers around the world who volunteer their time to support the teaching program.”

“Students who might not have access to graduate certificates in their home countries are given the opportunity to achieve a qualification from an Australian university that is immediately applicable to their career,” said Associate Professor McGlasson.

Frank Twum-Barimah was working in a humanitarian role, in West Africa with World Vision when he applied to undertake the Graduate Certificate of Humanitarian Leadership. His study was subsidised by the IKEA Foundation.

When you do humanitarian work, you might be deployed into a location for a short time. What’s left behind is the work you’ve done, so it has to be done well. The course taught me how to be a decisive leader without being authoritarian, and how to be transparent and consistent so that people trust my decisions.

—Frank Twum-Barimah, Graduate Certificate of Humanitarian Leadership Graduate

“The Graduate Certificate of Humanitarian Leadership is not a typical course. As well as the theoretical work, which I was able to complete via distance learning, there were week-long simulation exercises. These placed us into real life situations, led by guests who shared insights from their day-to-day experiences in the field. The other participants in the simulation exercises worked for a range of humanitarian organisations, and they all shared experiences, best practices, and the challenges they faced in their work.”

When he completed his course Mr Twum-Barimah was awarded the Abruzzo Medal, which is presented to the student in each cohort who has demonstrated the greatest progression in their humanitarian leadership. Shortly after he was seconded by World Vision to the role of Country Response Manager in Niger, a significant advancement in his career.

“When you do humanitarian work, you might be deployed into a location for a short time. What’s left behind is the work you’ve done, so it has to be done well. The course taught me how to be a decisive leader without being authoritarian, and how to be transparent and consistent so that people trust my decisions,” said Mr Twum-Barimah.

The leadership capacity the Centre is developing around the world is more important than ever. Before the COVID-19 pandemic a typical emergency response would involve a senior humanitarian worker being deployed to help lead a crisis. Current travel restrictions have meant that local humanitarian workers need to have the knowledge and skills to meet the response themselves.

“COVID-19 has forced us to innovate. We have demonstrated that digital simulations over Zoom or Teams are effective. Down the track we envision gaming and virtual reality interactions, but we need to keep in mind that the students will need equipment and reliable internet access wherever they are in the world,” said Ms McGlasson.

“To meet the growing demand for humanitarian assistance we need to expand our program from graduating 90 students per year to three or four hundred students per year. To achieve this we need to find more creative ways to deliver the program and we need more philanthropic support.”

Collaboration is integral to the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership. Partnership was fundamental to founding the Centre and continues to influence its ongoing mission to continue transforming the humanitarian sector. You can learn more about partnership opportunities with the CHL here.

This article was originally published by Deakin University in their 2020 donor impact report The dKin Difference.