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Humanitarian Research

Innovative Humanitarian Solutions

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs innovates solutions to complex humanitarian challenges through collaborative research and exploration. IIHA Research Fellows contribute to the knowledge of our undergraduate students, the mainstream media, and the general public through events, press engagement, and academic publishing.

The Institute works alongside government entities, non-governmental organizations, like-minded academic institutions, and the private sector to address some of today’s most pressing humanitarian challenges, such as:


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

The Institute’s humanitarian innovation initiative explores the applications and limitations of technology and innovation for humanitarian response. Researchers craft policy, implement trainings and education modules, and host public and private events aimed at placing innovation management and ethical data science at the center of humanitarian action.

The initiative brings together leading experts from humanitarian, technology and academic sectors for the development of a Humanitarian Clearinghouse. Researchers and partners analyze and collate a wealth of knowledge on innovation methodologies and tools that can be made accessible to humanitarians working in crises worldwide. Through the development of evidence-based indicators, the clearinghouse also facilitates the effective matching between groundbreaking technologies and critical humanitarian needs.

IIHA Innovation Fellows implemented the following projects in 2017:

  • Data and Innovation Management in Humanitarian Action Course at Fordham University in New York City
  • Summer School on Big Data for Peace and Justice at Leiden University in The Hague
  • Humanitarian Blockchain Summit at Fordham University in November 2017 brought together technology experts, private sector professionals, and humanitarian workers to discuss the future of blockchain technology in humanitarian operations.

Upcoming initiatives include:

  • Humanitarian Clearinghouse: An indicator-based framework to improve the compatibility of future technologies with humanitarian applications.
  • Blockchain for Humanity Initiative: Research projects and a Community of Practice to identify, analyze and promote ethical applications of distributed ledger technologies in the humanitarian field.
  • Training and education: A set of courses on humanitarian data and innovation management aimed at aid professionals, or other experts involved in humanitarian response.

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 co-directs efforts around humanitarian innovation. He 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. 

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)

Using big data to analyse WFP’s digital cash programme in Lebanon (Humanitarian Practice Network, February, 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)


At a time of heightened and prolonged global calamity, humanitarian actors persistently strive to design sustainable relief and recovery operations that restore dignity and foster resilience of affected populations. Similarly, a growing community of designers from diverse disciplines - ranging from the built environment and emergency architecture to product and graphic design - endeavor to contribute their skills for social change and humanitarian action.

In partnership with the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the UN Migration Agency (IOM), the IIHA explores the intersection of design and humanitarian action through the multi-year Design for Humanity Initiative for more dignified and sustainable humanitarian design.

Upcoming initiatives:

The Design for Humanity Summit will bring together humanitarian workers, architects, and designers of diverse backgrounds to present sustainable designs for humanitarian impact in June 2018 at Fordham University.

Humanitarian Design Fellow:

Alberto Preato is a program manager at the UN Migration Agency (IOM) in Niger and a Visiting Humanitarian Research Scholar at the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs. Alberto Preato has been on the frontline of some of the most challenging humanitarian responses to natural disaster and complex crisis and has been deployed as shelter and settlement experts in Mozambique, Colombia, Haiti, Honduras, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Niger.

Education in Emergencies

With 50 million children forcibly displaced and uprooted from their homes worldwide, millions lose the opportunity to access education. Providing quality education to displaced children gives them a sense of stability keeps them safe, and allows them to flourish and learn amidst crisis. The IIHA Education Fellow conducts analysis and research on best practices and solutions for providing quality education during and after humanitarian crises.

Urban Disasters

With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas and the growing prevalence of conflict, political strife, and natural disasters in urban areas, the humanitarian sector struggles to reach marginalized populations during urban disasters. In partnership with humanitarian experts and scholars, IIHA Urbanization Fellow Rene Desiderio, Ph.D. researches 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 focuses on the impact of humanitarian interventions on marginalized groups - children, women and adolescent girls, older persons, refugees and internally displaced persons - and seeks to better understand the needs of underserved populations and the constraints they face when crises strike in cities.

Rene Desiderio, Ph.D., 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.

Upcoming initiatives:

In 2018, Dr. Desiderio will publish a ten-chapter book on urban disasters that delves into the effects of urban crises on marginalized groups, including children, older persons, and the displaced, as well as the impact of social media, technology and healthcare services, make on populations affected by complex urban emergencies. 

Ageing and Migration

During humanitarian crises, older persons often hold the social fabric of their communities together –  serving as family guardians and community leaders, advocates and teachers. They are also the first to fall through the cracks of the humanitarian safety net, with limited mobility and frail health, as they struggle more than most to reach safety, rebuild their homes, and continue their lives in dignity. The United Nations has reported that by 2050 the global population of individuals over the age of sixty will more than double to comprise a quarter of the world’s population. In countries susceptible to climate change-induced disasters and conflict, older persons are sure to face greater protection risks, barriers to healthcare, and vulnerability to exploitation and abuse.

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 programmes 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. 

Past initiatives: 

A side event for the 56th Session Commission for Social Development entitled Humanitarian Action for Older Persons: Fifteen Years After Madrid at the United Nations in February 2018 brought together diplomats, academics and humanitarians to 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 15 years after the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.


Ann Pawliczko, Ph.D., 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, program, 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, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow on Ageing, Urbanization, and International Migration 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.

Water and Migration

The scarcity or availability of water in West Africa has fueled conflict and driven human migration across and within the region’s borders over the past fifty years. Understanding natural resource management in the Sahel is thus key to understanding the reasons and consequences for humanitarian crises facing West Africa, particularly in the Niger River basin and the Lake Chad region. 

IIHA Water and Migration Research Fellow, Isaie Dougnon, Ph.D., leads research on ecological displacement, social conflict and peace surrounding resource management. This research privileges local knowledge and combines interdisciplinary academic fields, including anthropology, environmental science, law, theology, literature, history, and demography. The project ultimately aims to understand the impact of climate change and access to water on West African societies, and to influence policy that advances rural and urban development, regional security, and peaceful resolution of conflicts.


Isaie Dougnon received his Ph.D. from the University of Bayreuth in Germany in 2003 and researched labor migration in West Africa. For more than 15 years, he has taught Anthropology at the University of Bamako in Mali for more than 15 years. Recently in August of 2017, he joined Fordham University as Assistant Professor at the Department of Modern Languages and Literature and the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs. In his research at Fordham, Isaie continues to contribute to current debates related to migration and child labor.