As the world continues to face an increase in the number and intensity of natural and man- made disasters, conflicts and unprecedented humanitarian challenges, there is need for creative, innovative and newer ways of thinking in the way we plan and respond to these crises.

The East Africa region has experienced an array of humanitarian dynamics, from global climate change to conflicts, all of which combine to create catastrophes affecting millions of people. Managing these crises has been challenging because of the ad hoc way we respond to disasters. The question individuals and leaders in government should ask themselves is whether we have learnt from our past mistakes in identifying the root causes of the crises. Have we tackled the underlying problems and are we prepared for the worst should a crisis arise in the future?

Worldwide, technology and scientific innovations have had a big impact on how humanitarian actors respond to crises. Over time, humanitarians have improved their skills in responding to emergencies, leading to many lives being saved. Humanitarian actors therefore have to look at past and current trends in order to adequately prepare for and respond to disasters now and in the future. Preparing for crises of the future means not only developing more efficient relief delivery mechanisms and protection strategies, but also analysing the political and economic context that will shape the nature of the future challenges.

It is in this context that the Institute for the Future and the Humanitarian Learning Centre (HLC) partnered with the Humanitarian Leadership Academy to train leaders of the East Africa Academy Centre’s partners in futures thinking methodologies, and explore future trends and disruptions for humanitarian contexts and grassroots organisations.

The future for humanitarian and disaster relief workshop was held at Ole-Sereni Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya on 4th – 5th October 2017. The workshop featured participants from different organisations including the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Development Research and Training (DRT) Uganda, Help Age International, Somali Lifeline Organisation, National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), Makerere University and SORA Consortium.

The goal of the workshop was to give participants a broad, cross-industry, global view of future disruptions, as well as some practical methods for thinking about the future. The Institute for the Future was very pleased to introduce foresights methodology as a new strategy for the first time directly in the humanitarian sector, so that strategies that have been in place in non-profits, philanthropists and co-operations all over the world can have direct impact on the current operating strategy for humanitarian relief and disaster relief.

Participants at the workshop were able to test one of the technological innovations where they played a game that involved different activities revolving around the future using the WITHIN application to experience innovative and informative story based virtual learning. Through this, they were able to virtually experience day-to-day challenging lifestyles of refugees.


After the two-day intensive workshop, it emerged that foresights method is an interesting strategy and decision-making tool particularly for East Africa where it will contribute not only to the present, but also try and plan for the future by understanding what might happen and be able to prepare for it. Consequently, it was suggested that in order to maximize impact as humanitarians, it would be vital to think about what might happen in the future to provide an opportunity to prepare for it and adapt the humanitarian work and meet needs as they are not only in the present, but also be able to meet needs as they arise so that we can have the capability to react well and prepare and prevent disasters regardless of the magnitude. It also emerged that there is a need for bridging the technical skills gap in the East African humanitarian sector in which the humanitarian actors are unable to react to certain crises/disasters due to a lack of required skills.


In addition, it was agreed that in the future, humanitarians in the East Africa region may need to focus on particular development areas, including politics, food security, education, skills transfer and capacity building for an efficient humanitarian sector.

“We can’t predict the future unless we look at trends and patterns to make the best decisions for the humanitarian sector.” – Atish Gonsalves, Global Learning and Innovation Director at the Humanitarian Leadership Academy

In conclusion, the workshop was an important platform for different organisations to express their different views on the future of humanitarian and disaster relief work and it was agreed that there is more strength when organisations work more in collaboration.

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