Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Humanitarian Innovation Initiative (HI2)

Letter from the Director

Welcome to the Humanitarian Innovation Initiative (HI²) at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. The array of factors that contribute to the economic and human losses experienced in both natural disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies are vast and complicated, and the strategies employed to mitigate and heal the damage caused by these disturbances must be equal to the task. By its very nature, humanitarian response is an incredibly multidisciplinary field, incorporating academic arenas such as international relations, political science, medicine, public health, population studies, economics, environmental sciences, engineering, architecture and design, gender studies, sociology, anthropology, law, and human rights. With the launch of the Humanitarian Innovation Initiative, Brown University is in a unique position to bring together these traditionally separate areas of academia to tackle the increasing challenges that international emergencies will pose over the coming years.

Humanitarian assistance is clearly an area of growing need. Humanitarian spending has grown from less than $2 billion per year in 2000 to more than $20 billion today, not including the money spent on international development aid in stable settings. At the same time, the worldwide humanitarian workforce, currently estimated at 275,000 people, continues to grow at a pace of about 6% each year. Moreover, the world’s humanitarian needs are likely to grow sharply over the coming decades as large numbers of people face increased vulnerability due to the pressures of global climate change.

Unfortunately, training, research, professionalization, and systems development in humanitarian response have not kept pace with the growing demand for humanitarian aid. The training of humanitarian professionals needs to be improved and standardized, while new methods must be developed for measuring the impact of humanitarian aid in order to ensure greater accountability. At the same time, there has been a growing movement to increase the involvement of local governments and communities in the planning and execution of both disaster preparedness and response activities taking place within their borders. In order to remain relevant, global humanitarianism must learn to both innovate and grow in reaction to the rising challenges of the 21st century.

The need for new, evidence-based practices in the field of humanitarianism is clear. Even clearer is the need for greater global collaboration in areas of research, education, and advocacy in order to develop and implement those practices. With this in mind, HI² seeks to bridge the gap between academics and practitioners as a means to collectively improve the effectiveness and accountability of disaster preparedness, humanitarian response, and post-emergency reconstruction.


Adam C. Levine, MD, MPH
Director, Humanitarian Innovation Initiative
Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs