Thank you, Adam and good morning everyone. I am delighted to welcome all of you to the third iteration in a series of workshops on civilian-military humanitarian response.
I want to first thank our co-hosts -- the Brown Humanitarian Innovation Initiative, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and of course, the U.S. Naval War College -- for organizing this workshop.
And I want to thank all of the participants for being here. One of the advantages of a workshop like this is that it brings together experts -- academics, humanitarian field practitioners, military planners, and NGO leaders -- from a wide range of institutions who might not otherwise find themselves in the same room.
In my experience, this kind of cross-sector, interdisciplinary collaboration always bodes well for breakthroughs and advancing knowledge. And it is on this point that I’d like to offer a brief perspective to help set up the workshop.
There is broad agreement that humanitarian emergencies have become much more complex in recent decades, in terms of operational, technical, and political management. This is especially so when they metastasize into major security challenges, such as mass displacements, epidemics, and political instability.
There is also broad agreement that natural disasters are occurring with greater frequency, principally because of the effects of climate change. More than in previous eras, humanitarian emergencies are linked to broader concerns about sustainable development and governance. We see this:
- in the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where intermittent conflict continues and millions of displaced people are encamped;
- the threat of drought and famine in parts of the Sahel region in Africa, where violence continues to undermine security and humanitarian relief;
- and in the wars in Yemen and Syria that have led to unprecedented refugee flows.
The fact that there are seven working groups slated for the workshop -- on everything from urbanization to corruption in humanitarian response -- is an indication of how interconnected these issues have become.
And add to this an uncertain media and information environment that can deliberately or inadvertently distort the facts on the ground, and the complexity is compounded.
In short, the challenges to humanitarian response practice today are daunting. And clarity in the negotiated roles and responsibilities of civilian and military stakeholders is among the most critically important “big questions” that must be addressed.
Response strategies must be equal to this daunting task.
It shouldn't surprise you to know that I think that Universities and Colleges—working in concert with governmental and non-governmental stakeholders—have an important role to play.
More than ever, humanitarian response strategies are shaped by robust research. Our enhanced ability to collect and analyze data enables us to develop more effective policies and programs. And cross-disciplinary knowledge -- from anthropology, political science, engineering, public health, and public policy -- informs goal-setting, metrics, protocols and desired outcomes.
So yes, we can be equal to the task by strengthening the humanitarian response ecosystem. We need to expand options for stabilizing operating environments, protecting vulnerable people, and addressing the impacts and drivers of humanitarian emergencies.
In 2016, under Adam Levine’s leadership, Brown launched the Humanitarian Innovation Initiative at the Watson Institute, with the aim of improving the coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance worldwide through research and teaching.
And two years earlier, in 2014, the Watson Institute signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Naval War College, with the aim of jointly addressing challenges to international security -- through faculty colloquia, national security fellowships and enhanced teaching, research, and lecture opportunities.
These initiatives -- and by extension, this workshop -- underscore Brown’s commitment to structuring its academic programs so that knowledge is arrayed for the benefit of human welfare.
In fact, a core component of the University’s strategic plan, Building on Distinction, is integrated scholarship centered around broad societal challenges -- such as Creating Peaceful, Just and Prosperous Societies; Sustaining Life on Earth; and Deciphering Disease.
The future of civilian-military humanitarian response fits squarely into this conversation. Your work over the next two days will take on complexity and continue to build a foundation of evidence-based knowledge linking academic and applied dimensions of humanitarian response.
Let me conclude with an observation from my own experience.
Next week will mark exactly 13 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. Many lessons were learned—the hard way—about how to prevent and address humanitarian crises.
I learned something, too, about the value of collaborative research.
After the hurricane, a research study I had been involved in—on improving the living standards and health of low-income parents in New Orleans—morphed into something quite different: a longitudinal study of why some folks were resilient after the storm, re-establishing employment and housing, and sustaining social connections and good mental and physical health. But others, unfortunately, were not, and were left with the long-term scarring of poverty and mental health challenges.
This work wouldn't have happened if it hadn't crossed disciplinary boundaries. The fact that the project involved psychologists, sociologists, economists, political scientists and others—and that it was informed by the voices of people who had survived the storm—make the work stronger and more valuable to policymakers.
More generally, to solve the challenges posed by humanitarian crises, we need to bring together people who bring different skill-sets and experiences. It’s my hope that collaboration between and among this diverse group of experts will strengthen the civil-military humanitarian response research agenda that emerges from your discussions.
Thank you and have a great workshop.