Call for papers for Humanitarian Alternatives 13th issue

In view of the publication of its 13th issue, to be released in March 2020, Humanitarian Alternatives is calling for papers under its next focus theme “The impacts of generational changes on humanitarian aid”. If you are an actor, a researcher or an observer of the international humanitarian community and wish to submit a proposal for an article, please send us a summary and the outline of the paper (2 pages maximum) before December 16, 2019 at the following address: We will respond by December 20, 2019, at the latest.

The final deadline for submitting the article is January 27, 2020. Please observe that the article must be around 15 000 characters, including spaces (approximately 2,400 words).

As for each issue, this call for papers also extends to “non-theme” articles and topics that could appear in the sections “Perspectives”, “Transition”, “Innovations”, “Ethics”, “Reportage”, or “Tribune”.

The impacts of generational changes on humanitarian aid

In the humanitarian field, as elsewhere, generational changes have made an impact. Now that many French NGOs are commemorating their three, four, or even five decades of existence, what are the generational changes that have been observed over the course of time and how have they specifically transformed humanitarian action? Some French doctors from “May 1968” take time off to volunteer for today’s “community managers” but to what extent does their experience fit with today’s full scope of commitments, convictions, fieldwork, training, politics, mobilising actions, technological tools, and even with the very history of the humanitarian movement itself?

This a time of overlapping generations. The founders of the major French NGOs – and their followers – had often built their organisations amid severe geopolitical crises arising directly from the Cold War: the Biafran war for Doctors Without Borders, the Vietnamese boat-people for Doctors of the World, Afghanistan for Solidarités International, Cambodia for Handicap International (now Humanity & Inclusion), etc. Then came Generation X trained in Bosnia, Rwanda, Indonesia, and Darfur. These two generational currents followed different trajectories. The generation of founders and their followers went on to pursue their medical careers, some entering politics when they did not remain at the head of their organisations. Members of Generation X – probably the first to have been “trained” in humanitarian action launched in the 1990s – still constitutes the inner core of NGOs and took on board the Millennials of Generation Y in the early 2000s, who will be eventually joined by members of Generation Z.

How do these different generations coexist within NGOs? How do older generations view those just entering the field? Exactly how do newcomers manage to fit into the humanitarian environment, inhabit it, transform it, and even call it into question?

Rather than describe these matters as a conflict between old and new generations, the forthcoming issue of Humanitarian Alternatives seeks to better grasp how the coexistence of different generations, cultures, and practices has affected the humanitarian world, and to better understand what can emerge from this coexistence. It is therefore a matter of pointing out naturally arising mutual misunderstandings in this generational transition, and, additionally, of identifying the complementarities and the structural changes that may ensue. For these differences, are they not more structural than generational? In other words, with the advent of crowdfunding, concerted mobilisation through social networks, blockchains, startups combining liberal economics and philanthropy, are traditional NGOs still up to applying the “right formula”? Should they – or can they – reinvent themselves in such way as to better profit from the injection of these new energies, or are they fated to wither away, opening the field to new working models that younger generations are already developing?

While the French model of humanitarian NGOs serves as a point of reference for these considerations, it should not be the sole focus of this review’s next issue. It will therefore give particular attention to contributions devoted to highlighting the different changes that generational transitions have brought about in the English-speaking world, in countries of the South, or in the Red Cross Movement.

© Callum Shaw – Unsplash

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