I contributed a piece to the 2014-2015 Comparative Program in Health and Society (CPHS) Working Paper Series in which I explore entrepreneurship and innovation in humanitarianism. Thank you to the Lupina Foundation and the Munk School of Global Affairs.
You can find it here.
Why and under what conditions do humanitarian international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) change their on-the-ground response and the humanitarian mandate? This article explores variation in pathways to adaptation by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), a humanitarian actor that arguably leads the field of humanitarian INGOs in mandate expansion. By comparing three instances of humanitarian response, it shows that radical innovation occurred in response to HIV/AIDS needs in the late 1990s; incremental adaptation facilitated response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014; and obstructed innovation characterizes responses to today’s displacement crisis in the Middle East. Humanitarian INGOs can be deliberately accommodating of change, which facilitates incremental adaptation, when there is: uncertainty about the appropriateness of humanitarian action; an internal organization that distributes authority to facilitate field-based, bottom-up political entrepreneurship; and humanitarian space for novel solutions. Notably, when actors are designing responses to new needs and begin to question their mandate, we may see either radical innovation that creates new space for response by redefining the boundaries of humanitarianism or innovation obstructed by an unwillingness to confront the humanitarian-development divide.
I will be adding new data and deepening analysis after fieldwork this year in Lebanon and Jordan. I conducted interviews with and observed the work of INGOs including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC), and Save the Children (SCI).