Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

HI² Participates in Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Workshop

On October 26-27, The Humanitarian Innovation Initiative (HI²) traveled to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island to join humanitarian practitioners, academics, and military leaders for an intensive two day workshop on Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response. Discussions revolved around civilian-military coordination and engagement in response to humanitarian crises. Participants explored the present and future challenges of international military support to humanitarian responses, including natural disasters and other complex emergencies such as pandemics.

Representing HI² and Brown University at the workshop was HI² Director and Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine Adam C. Levine, Global Emergency Medicine Fellow Saadiyah Bilal, and Disaster Medicine and Emergency Preparedness Fellow Rashmi Sharma.

Organized by the U.S. Naval War College’s Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Program, the goal of the workshop was to help the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), humanitarian organizations, and academia develop robust research, professional education, training, and action agendas to improve civilian-military coordination during humanitarian responses.

The range of participants provided “an excellent platform to gain deeper understanding of the principles, mandates, and intricacies of humanitarian response efforts led by both civilian and military actors on a global scale” said Rashmi Sharma, who described the two days as being “a lively atmosphere full of honest dialogue on contemporary challenges.”

Keynote speakers over the two days included Stephen O’Brien (Under-Secretary General UN OCHA), Jennifer Leaning (Harvard School of Public Health), and Major General Paul Kennedy (U.S. Marine Corps). A focus panel was also convened to discuss the important cross-cutting themes of ethics, gender, and vulnerability.

In an attempt to facilitate the development of a comprehensive research agenda and opportunities for professional education and training, workshop participants divided into five focused working groups organized around key thematic areas: (1) Naval Integration into Humanitarian Response; (2) Pandemics; (3) Global Health Engagements, Ethical & Gender Issues, and Security Cooperation Activities; (4) Climate Change and Urbanization; (5) Information Communication Technologies in Humanitarian Response. The recommendations made by each working group will be synthesized by the U.S. Naval War College’s Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Program and disseminated widely within appropriate military channels, UN OCHA, academic centers, and humanitarian organizations. 

Simply bringing together this wide range of humanitarian actors under one roof was a successful output unto itself, as participants were able to interact, debate, and discuss freely the challenges and opportunities that exist in providing effective humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations. Improved civilian-military coordination during humanitarian response is highly dependent upon a level of trust, respect, and understanding that can only be gained through dialogue and personal interaction. Increased trust and flow of knowledge will in turn help facilitate a more effective and efficient humanitarian response effort where the individual strengths of responding actors are utilized in concert with one another rather than creating an arena of competition.

We would like to thank the U.S. Naval War College’s Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Program for inviting HI² to participate in what turned out to be a valuable two days of timely and relevant discussions and network strengthening.  

-Seth Stulen

Program Coordinator, HI²