Author: Caroline Nursey, June 6 2016 - It was quite something to see more than 6,000 humanitarians gathered at this week’s World Humanitarian Summit [WHS] - and not a pair of muddy boots in sight! We were seeking an answer to how the 130 million people currently in need of humanitarian assistance around the world can be better served.

It was good to see so many women amongst the representatives from donor governments, private sector organisations, the UN and other international organisations, international NGOs, and national and local NGOs and community groupings. And most sessions had a good mix of people speaking: (I went to only one event where all nine on the platform were middle aged men - and eight of them white!). And even more heartening to see significant numbers of people with disabilities attending and speaking - giving tangible witness to the importance of inclusion in all aspects of our work.

Many session organisers had made huge efforts to bring the voices of those affected to the summit; from moving direct testimony at the side event ‘No Lost Generation: Empowering Youth Affected by the Syria Crisis’ moderated by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet - to films, including BBC Media Action’s ‘Voices’ that showed people in Bangladesh and Nepal commenting on the aid they had received.

 Bright ideas

Was the WHS worth it? That will depend on what happens in the coming months and years. There was recognition of the scale of the problem and a determination to find answers. Lots of bright ideas were shared. And commitments were made including the 'Grand Bargain’ that may really cut out many of the inefficiencies in the system.

Most encouraging for me was the recognition that people in crisis must be at the centre of every humanitarian response - shaping what is done at every stage. A special session addressed this directly and many side events linked to it including one featuring the CDAC network that asked ‘People at the centre: how does this work in practice'? Commitments were made to spend more money directly through local NGOs, to collect feedback and act on it and to commit resources to communicating with communities.

In a side event on the role of media in humanitarian crises, I argued that two-way communication with affected communities is critical in response to any humanitarian emergency. If we give people information they can take action themselves. If we listen to them they can tell us what they do and don’t really need. And if we provide ways for people to talk to each other, through local radio, social media or whatever is available, they can share solutions with each other.

Sharing stories

In the end what sticks most in my memory are some of the stories shared. A Rwandan woman who has spent the last 22 years working with children orphaned by the 1994 genocide, made a plea for us not to ignore the growing crisis in neighbouring Burundi. The head of a local Turkish mobile phone company reminded us that most of us have migration somewhere in our family history, and celebrated the half million Syrian refugees in Turkey as the future workforce who will make the economy strong. And the 10-year-old Syrian refugee who told us he wanted to become a doctor so that he could help future generations of people.

As I go back to my desk, I am clear that we can make the WHS worth it if we take forward the learning and commitments – so that those needs in Burundi are met, the refugees in Turkey thrive and the Syrian boy can reach his dream.
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Image credit: BBC Media Action

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