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HI Institute on Humanitarian Action

The HI Institute on Humanitarian Action works to ensure coherence between HI’s philosophy and its actions. The Institute contributes to the organisation’s sense of purpose and promotes our shared values.

 
Switzerland, Broken Chair, Place des Nations, Geneva. Switzerland, Broken Chair, Place des Nations, Geneva. Switzerland, Broken Chair, Place des Nations, Geneva. Switzerland, Broken Chair, Place des Nations, Geneva.

© HI / Sculpture de D. Berset

Why set up an institute ?

Officially founded in August 2015, on the decision of the Federal General Assembly taken in June 2014, the HI Institute on Humanitarian Action is the tangible fruition of an idea which germinated several years before, the principle behind which was included in HI’s 2011-2015 strategy. 

 

The idea is consubstantial with a staff-driven organisation in which the executive division plays a predominant role and the federal board of trustees, although it plays a major strategic and budgetary role, is removed from day-to-day operations and subject to the sporadic nature of its members’ involvement.

Based on this state of affairs, it became clear that the Federal BoT required an impartial instrument, independent of the executive division, which could work to develop ownership of shared values within the organisation and ensure these are respected across the entire federal network.

In addition to this primary objective, there was also a need to equip the overall organistion with a forum in which the members of the federation can express and think through our institutional coherency, beyond our differences in terms of our organisational culture.

It therefore appeared logical to combine these responsibilities with a remit for producing strategic intelligence on changes in our intervention contexts and nourishing our ethical thinking and political positioning, acting as a vector for discernment and action to implement our social mission.  

« The HI Institute on Humanitarian Action was therefore born out of the desire to provide stability for our organisation as a whole by setting up a tripartite institutional foundation: executive division, governance, institute. A space in which resources are shared, which serves the composite parts of the federal network and is open to external influences, the institute also contributes to extending our influence. Ensuring our values prevail, balancing responsibilities, and preventing conflict to ensure everyone can focus on implementing HI’s vision; these are the challenges and the stakes which constitute the HI Institute on Humanitarian Action’s raison d’être.»

Jacques TASSI, first Chairman of the HI Institute Board of Trustees from 2014 to 2018

 
 

Mandate conferred upon the Institute by the HI Federation 

The HI Institute on Humanitarian Action is a forum for thinking through and monitoring the ethical and political issues faced by the governance and executive bodies of the different entities within the federal network when exercising their respective responsibilities.  

The institute can be consulted on issues pertaining to the values and principles which underpin HI’s work, as well as on future changes to its mission or scope of action.

drafts HI’s strategic positioning

In relation to the institutional donors, advocacy themes, subjects for communication and strategic alliances which condition the relevance of our operations and, in certain circumstances, the safety of our teams in the field.

also gathers ethical and political intelligence

On the conditions under which international aid and development is delivered and their impact on the federal network’s operations.

A forum for open-minded

Dialectical thinking, it encourages the emergence of positions through discernment, linked to the values which define us. 

An open organisation

The HI Institute on Humanitarian Action interacts with other international aid and development actors and contributes to debate on major issues in the field of humanitarian action, thus benefitting the sector as a whole.

facilitates the sharing

Knowledge and experience in its areas of expertise, as well as the production of the testimony and accounts which form part of the federal network’s history

Through these different activities, it contributes to the perpetual foundations which underpin our actions and the organisation’s purpose, builds cohesion, and reinforces the identity of the federal network, as well as its influence.

 
 

The institute team

The HI Institute on Humanitarian Action team is composed of five employees, based in Lyon, Paris and Geneva in order to optimise implementation of its remit.

A separate entity in its own right, the HI Institute on Humanitarian Action has its own board of trustees. The latter has ten members and its chaired by Jean-Noël Dargnies, who is also Chairperson of HI’s federal board of trustees.

The institute’s work

Ethical guidelines and position statements


The HI Institute on Humanitarian Action is tasked with establishing the organisation’s ethical guidelines. These guidelines allow the organisation to ensure its positioning, both as headquarters and in the field, complies with its values and mandate. These guidelines cover issues such as the acceptability of private funds, state funds and some operational partnerships. Strategy papers are also produced and nourish the organisation’s thinking and positioning on a variety of subjects: partnerships with businesses operating in the international aid and development sector, migration and population displacement, our activities’ impact on the environment, etc.

Operational questions

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HI’s teams face challenges in relation to the organisation’s strategic position on a daily basis, the Institute is there to help them think these issues through and provides them with analyses to provide decision-making support in these complex situations. 
Every year, the HI Institute on Humanitarian Action publishes 150 recommendations to support our operations in the field. These recommendations, based on our intervention principles and ethical guidelines aim to preserve our values, our philosophy and our operational independence in a context where there is a real danger of falling foul of instrumentalization, intrusion and amalgamation. 
 

 
 

A painful decision taken in order to remain true to our values 

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It was with great regret that on 31st December 2018, HI closed its programme in Burundi, where it had been helping vulnerable people since 1992. This decision was taken following our refusal to comply with the latest demands from the Burundi government requiring us to keep records of the ethnic origins of our staff members. We considered that keeping records of the ethnic make-up of our teams and communicating this information to the authorities would infringe the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence and this was a red line we were unwilling to cross.  Although the organisation always complies with national legislation in the countries in which it operates and considers positive discrimination to be acceptable when it provides access to employment for groups overlooked due to their gender or disability for example, we cannot contemplate keeping records of our staff member’s ethnic origin in a country where this information does not feature on standard forms of identification. It was extremely painful to bring 26 years of working alongside the Burundi population to an end, but this decision was made knowingly. Informed by the work of the institute, the decision was based on our ethical guidelines and highlights our organisation’s unwillingness to compromise its values.
 

 

Facilitating debate and seeking meaning

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The institute is also an open organisation which interacts with all international aid and development actors by contributing to debate on major issues in the humanitarian sector. It facilitates the sharing of knowledge and experience in its areas of expertise, as well as the production of the testimony and accounts which form part of the federal network’s history.

hosts and participates in events

In Lyon, Paris and Geneva on themes as diverse as reforming the United Nations, the shrinking humanitarian space and the acceptability of funds both private (corporations, foundations etc.) or public (state, UN, European, etc.).

holds events itself

Promote the sharing of experience and knowledge. Two formats, developed by the Institute for HI’s teams (“Les Causeries” and “Retour sur”), contribute to this dynamic, with the added benefit of furthering our search for meaning and our teams’ ownership.

“LES CAUSERIES”
Inaugurated in April 2015, the “Les Causeries” is a cycle of discussions with personalities from very diverse horizons: geopoliticians, philosophers, lawyers, photographers, elected officials etc. The aim is to enhance our understanding of the cross-cutting issues which intersect with our sector of activity and to stimulate our thinking with input from external perspectives.

 

 

“RETOUR SUR”
The HI Institute on Humanitarian Action also intends to ensure the history of our organisation lives on, taking as a starting point the stories and testimony of the men and women who have contributed to making HI what it is today.  With this in mind, the institute invites former employees or friends of the organisation to recollect their contribution to specific themes such as the inclusion of mental health in HI’s scope of action, the beginnings of our campaign against anti-personnel landmines, or our commitment to fighting AIDS/HIV alongside the most vulnerable populations. 
 

 
 

Photos : © J-J. Bernard / HI - © P. Poussereau/HI - © E. Niyomwungere / HI