Academic and NGO partnerships: Case studies from humanitarian capacity building

The Humanitarian Capacity Building team at Save the Children UK has partnered with various academic institutions to work towards professionalizing the humanitarian sector.

These partnerships differ in complexity and intensity and can be placed on the following continuum:


In this model, Cooperation stands for a limited engagement where each partner fulfills a particular task; it could be seen as a contractual relationship. The team partners  with Pearsons Assured, the world’s largest education company, to ensure quality across the programmes they deliver. Pearsons Assured  review their processes and provide recommendations which the team need to follow to be quality assured.

Coordinating partners fulfill their respective roles independently but they actively align what they do to reach a common goal. The team’s partnerships with Oxford Brookes University and with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) fits within this model. Oxford Brookes University accredits their Humanitarian Operations Programme (HOP) and supports the programme through a student feedback mechanism and by providing input on assessments. LSTM ensured the development of a robust assessment framework for their Humanitarian Health & Nutrition Diplomas and verified the programme specifications at the outset.

The Humanitarian Capacity Building team have identified Collaboration as the highest level of engagement; the partnership is about mutual decision making. It could be illustrated by the innovative academic-humanitarian partnership between the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the Child Protection Working Group (CPWG) which resulted in the design, the development and the delivery of the Child Protection in Emergencies Post Graduate Diploma. The CPWG provides field experience and practitioner expertise and UKZN provides academic input and enables the accreditation of students.

The benefits of these partnerships are to professionalize and raise the profiles of their learning programmes, increase motivation of the participants and ensure quality. They realise it is neither the only approach towards professionalization of the humanitarian sector nor is it exclusively what they do. There is no clear answer as to what professionalization of the sector is so the presenters then engaged the audience to challenge the following deliberately controversial statements:

·       Partnering with European or North American universities just reinforces elitist education. It makes professional development inaccessible to most humanitarians.

·       If you allow people to gain professional qualifications, they will just get promoted into roles that are away from frontline humanitarian work.

The audience touched upon various issues linked with these statements like the important role of academia in providing research to inform humanitarian action; the need for Southern universities to engage and be engaged in humanitarian partnerships; the need to challenge existing fee models and the lack of clear humanitarian career paths. 

The Humanitarian Capacity Building team are pursuing different aspects of the professionalization agenda. The key message of the presentation was that we should all keep on learning and sharing and building on each other’s experiences.

This article was originally published in Humanitarian Partnership Conference 2015 blog.


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