Disrupting the Humanitarian Enterprise: On Digital Identity

Disrupting the Humanitarian Enterprise | Chatham House | 18 June 2019

Today’s global aid architecture is accused by critics both inside and outside of the sector of failing to adapt to the demands of the 21st century. Despite seemingly perpetual ‘transformation’ or ‘reform’, the international humanitarian system has continued to struggle to remake itself as a more adaptable, accountable system that empowers those affected by crisis and recognizes them as agents of change in their own lives. Against this backdrop, the panelists explored the key ideas, drivers and actors that have the potential to disrupt humanitarian action, confronting its architecture and assumptions.

To what extent can the international humanitarian system be re-imagined and improved? How are new players in global aid, such as southern donors, reshaping the sector? And as technology becomes a core element of humanitarian response, how might it shape future risks and opportunities?

Urvashi highlighted how digital technologies are enabling new forms of community engagement, and ownership. In this way, they can address some of the critiques of the international humanitarian system around participation and localization. However, these technologies also risk recasting existing power asymmetries and creating new forms of risk. Three issues in particular deserve attention: data collection and (mis)use; the increasing use of biometrics in aid delivery; and the new public-partnerships that are being forged in the process. Innovation can easily mean experimentation.


Dr Urvashi Aneja, Associate Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House; Founding Director, Tandem Research
Marc DuBois
, Independent Humanitarian Consultant; Senior Fellow, SOAS
Markus Geisser
, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor, ICRC
Dr Champa Patel
, Head, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House