Innovating Humanitarian Solutions

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs innovates solutions to complex humanitarian challenges through research and academic critique. The Institute continues to establish itself as a thought leader in the humanitarian field and fosters dialogue among scholars, humanitarian professionals and experts around the world.
IIHA Research Fellows contribute to the knowledge of our undergraduate students, the mainstream media and the general public on topics of humanitarian response through events, engagement with the press, and academic publishing. Our fellows draw from decades of experience in the field to conduct practical research that transforms humanitarian action on the following themes:  


Innovation Research

As technological tools become more widely available on an open source market, the humanitarian community has the opportunity to adapt cutting-edge innovation for more effective impact and relief. Technologies such as blockchain, cryptocurrencies, data management tools, satellite imagery, 3D printing and so many more have the capability to revolutionize humanitarian action if applied appropriately and responsibly. 

The Institute’s humanitarian innovation research explores the practical applications/usage and limitations of technology and innovation from a humanitarian perspective. The initiative brings together leading experts from humanitarian, technology and academic sectors as part of a bigger effort to put innovation management and data science at the center of humanitarian action. Researchers extract the best practices from existing projects to craft policy work, design training and education products, and develop public and private events aimed at strengthening awareness and knowledge of innovation in the humanitarian field. 

In partnership with the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, IIHA Innovation Fellows are also developing the Humanitarian Clearinghouse Project. The project aims to harness machine learning and artificial intelligence, in addition to field experts, to facilitate the effective matching between groundbreaking technologies and critical humanitarian needs. Through the development of a clearinghouse of technology, researchers and partners are analyzing and collating a wealth of knowledge on innovation methodologies and tools that can be made accessible to humanitarians working in crises worldwide.

Past Initiatives

The IIHA partnered with the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University to host two courses on data and humanitarian response in 2017:

Upcoming Initiatives

The Humanitarian Blockchain Summit on November 10, 2017 will bring together technology experts, private sector professionals and humanitarian workers to discuss the future of blockchain technology in humanitarian operations and in pursuit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and recommend policies for using blockchain in specific humanitarian interventions.

Humanitarian Innovation Fellows

Giulio Coppi is a legal expert (BA, MA, MAS in International Legal Affairs and Humanitarian Studies) with more than 10 years of experience designing and managing humanitarian operations around the world. As Humanitarian Innovation Fellow, his research focuses on the ways new technologies and strategies can affect the delivery of humanitarian response. More specifically, Giulio investigates how technology impacts the policy and governance of organizations and supports humanitarian agencies to develop data responsibility and protection frameworks. 

Jorn Poldermans - Humanitarian Innovation Fellow

Jorn Poldermans is an innovation and technology expert based at the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University. As Humanitarian Innovation Fellow at Fordham University, he co-directs efforts around humanitarian innovation and helps partners – ranging from international organizations to local governments – to optimize their use of relevant technologies, helping to understand the possibilities, limitations and responsibilities they bring. Exploring innovation and technology for several years, his work focuses on vetting existing and upcoming technologies for the humanitarian and development sectors in a clearinghouse format. 

As an expert workshop facilitator, speaker, and coach, he specializes in driving multi-disciplinary teams and leadership to enable collaborative approaches to innovation in the humanitarian, diplomatic and governmental sector. Jorn also co-founded the Stanford Peace Innovation Lab in The Hague in 2014, a global network of innovation labs leveraging technology for humanity’s biggest challenges. 
Jorn received his Master’s of Science in Political Science from the University of Amsterdam and his Master’s of Arts in International Relations from Leiden University.

Relevant Links and Past Work

Normalizing the data revolution (Tech’s Good, New York, 2017)

Emergency Response Briefing – Terms of Reference for Research - Improving Capacity and Innovation to Prepare and Respond (International Peace Institute, New York, 2017)

Emergency Response Briefing - Yemen - Improving Capacity and Innovation to Prepare and Respond (International Peace Institute, New York, 2017)

TOR145 ― High Tech Humanitarians With Giulio Coppi (Aidpreneur, Terms Of Reference PodCast, 2017),

Humanitarian Technology and Innovation: Opportunities and Challenges in Urban Disaster Settings, in Vulnerabilities and Humanitarian Responses in Urban Settings (Fordham University IIHA, New York, 2017)
How Can Humanitarians Embrace Innovation?: Q&A with Giulio Coppi (IPI, Istanbul, June, 2016)
A legal analysis of the authorization of access in cross-border humanitarian assistance (Geneva Academy, Geneva, 2015)

La Provincia Autonoma di Trento e la Cooperazione Internazionale, (OECD Publishing, Trento, 2015)
Using big data to analyze WFP’s digital cash programme in Lebanon (Humanitarian Practice Network, 2017)

Urban Disasters

Urban Disaster Research 

With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas and the growing prevalence of conflict, political strife, and natural disasters reaching urban areas, the humanitarian sector is challenged to respond to marginalized populations when urban disasters strike. In partnership with humanitarian experts and scholars, IIHA Fellow Dr. Rene Desiderio is researching the implications of global urbanization on humanitarian response. The project focuses on the multiple factors that contribute to urban growth, converging pressures on urban crisis, and urban vulnerability. Using data on urbanization trends and projections, the research provides a demographic and spatial context for humanitarian action given the increasing frequency and severity of large-scale disasters impacting urban areas. 

This project is part of a larger research project on the impact of humanitarian interventions on marginalized groups - children, women and adolescent girls, older persons, refugees and internally displaced persons. This analysis seeks to better understand  the needs of underserved populations and the particular constraints they face so as to propose solutions on how humanitarian actors can better support, engage and assist them. 

Urban Disaster Fellow

Rene Desiderio, PhD, is a Research Fellow on Aging, Urbanization and International Migration at the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA). He received his doctoral and Master's degrees from Cornell University in the field of Population and International Development. He has a Master's of Science degree in Social Planning from the Centre for Development Studies, University of Wales, and was an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of North Carolina Population Center. Dr. Desiderio served for more than 10 years with the United Nations Secretariat and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in New York, Somalia and Bangkok.

Education in Crises

Education in Crises Research

With close to 30 million children living in conflict-affected countries, and hundreds of thousands of families displaced by natural disasters and the effects of climate-related events, education in times of crisis and conflict is indispensable in order to achieve the goal of universal education. IIHA Education Fellows conduct research on educational projects from the emergency phase to post-conflict situations, with a special emphasis on the mechanisms required to improve the quality of education during and after humanitarian crises.

Humanitarian Design

Humanitarian Design Research

In times of disasters or complex humanitarian crises, shelter is a critical determinant of survival. Persons displaced by conflict and disaster spend an average of 17 years displaced - in camps, settlements or urban areas. Humanitarian infrastructure designed as quick-fix solutions to immediate needs often become long-term situations for affected populations. Everyone has the right to adequate housing, especially in times of crisis, when shelter is a primary tool for protection, privacy, and dignity. IIHA Humanitarian Design Fellows are working with innovative partners around the world to find new solutions for populations in protracted and emergency crises through more sustainable and comprehensive design strategies.

Upcoming Initiatives

In partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology, the IIHA is organizing the Humanitarian Design Summit at Fordham University in June 2018 which will bring together humanitarian workers, architects, and designers of diverse backgrounds to present sustainable designs for humanitarian impact.

Ageing and Migration

Ageing and Migration Research

With 60 million displaced persons in the world today, the most vulnerable often fall through the cracks of humanitarian relief interventions. Among these populations are the elderly, who often fail to acquire the specialized health care, counseling, nutrition, and other needs required for a dignified life. IIHA Research Fellows investigate how humanitarian and relief agencies ensure that older persons have equal access to vital services and are thus not deprived of critical life-saving resources during emergencies and disasters. 

Policies and programs of the international humanitarian community that protect and support older people’s rights and contributions to relief delivery and rehabilitation are reviewed and analyzed. Good practices that help reduce the vulnerability associated with ageing and humanitarian interventions that enhance the capacities and contribution of older people will be documented. 

Upcoming Initiatives

A side event for the Commission for Social Development entitled Humanitarian Action for Older Persons: Fifteen Years After Madrid will take place under the leadership of IIHA Ageing Migrant Fellows at the United Nations Headquarters in February 2018. Speakers from the humanitarian sector and refugee community will present the concerns of older persons in humanitarian situations; the successes and challenges in addressing these concerns; and the contributions of older persons to sustainable recovery and disaster management; and lessons learned 15 years after the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.

Ageing and Migration Research Fellows

Ann Pawliczko, PhD, is Ageing Migrant Research Fellow at the IIHA and a demographic consultant specializing in population ageing and international migration.  Her professional career spans over three decades, with more than twenty years of advocacy, policy, programme, research and publishing experience in the international arena within the United Nations system, collaborating with UN agencies, international organizations, NGOs and academia. She organized many United Nations expert meetings and special sessions on topics related to ageing and migration at various global conferences including the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, the World Demographic Association, the International Federation on Ageing, and the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics as well as side events during the UN Commissions for Social Development and Population and Development. 

Rene Desiderio, PhD, is a Research Fellow on Urbanization, Displacement, and Older Persons at the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA). He received doctoral and Master's degrees from Cornell University in the field of Population and International Development. He has a Master's of Science degree in Social Planning from the Centre for Development Studies, University of Wales, and was an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of North Carolina Population Center. Dr. Desiderio served for more than 10 years with the United Nations Secretariat and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in New York, Somalia and Bangkok.