Humanitarian horizons: A practitioners' guide to the future

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Abstract: 

This guide results from the future intruding into the present. Whilst we were carrying out what was to be a two-year collaborative research program, with many iterations of consultation planned between the researchers and the commissioning aid agencies, one of those Black Swan events, made infamous in Nassim Taleb's book of the same name, intervened, causing us to take a radical change of direction. We know that history is dominated not so much by trends but by unexpected events which knock or nudge society in new directions. The future will be even more dominated by the unexpected.

This guide is an attempt to help humanitarian aid agencies look a generation into the future to begin making the necessary changes now to their thinking and organization to ensure that they deliver the right assistance and protection in the right way to the right people, in whatever future our children may experience.

The future is now!

The Humanitarian Horizons project, commissioned by the agencies of the Inter-Agency Working Group (IWG) and implemented jointly by the Feinstein International Center of Tufts University and the Humanitarian Futures Programme of King's College, London, was launched in the fall of 2008, with the objective of assisting the humanitarian sector to prepare for the complexities of the future.

Although circumstances eventually altered the intended scope and course of the project, it began with the commissioning of four reports on what the future might look like, focusing spectively on climate change, globalization, demographics, and changes in the humanitarian system.

The IWG agencies collaborated with us to reflect on these reports, and to map and collate our individual and collective views of the future. These views, the "so whats," were tested against the commissioned futures studies and it is this analysis you see presented in the second section of this guide, following a summary of the four commissioned reports.

Acknowledgements: This Practitioners’ Guide to the Future is derived from four research papers authored by: 

  • Carl Haub, Population Reference Bureau (Demographics)
  • Lezlie C. Erway Morinière, Richard Taylor, Mohamed Hamza, and Tom Downing, Stockholm Environment Institute (Climate Change)
  • Shanza Khan and Adil Najam, Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future (Globalization)
  •  John Borton, John Borton Consulting (Key Dynamics within the International System)

Additional input was provided by Randolph Kent and Stacey White from the Humanitarian Futures Programme, King’s College London, and by Peter Walker and Elizabeth Bontrager from the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University.

The authors would like to acknowledge the support – in the form of both financial and substantive contributions – provided by the Inter-Agency Working Group throughout the course of the Humanitarian Horizons project. The project was generously funded by the following organizations: Catholic Relief Services, the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Oxfam America, World Vision Australia, World Vision Canada, and World Vision International.