Lessons in bridging the humanitarian, development and peace divide

A UN peacekeeper stands guard at a polling station in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui during the second round of legislative elections in 2021. The fragile political and economic situation in the country has called for a more joined-up approach between humanitarian and peacekeeping actors. (Credit: UN photo)

When a conflict erupts or disaster strikes, humanitarian aid actors are often the first to step onto the scene.  But how can these emergency responses be better matched with long-term development and peacebuilding efforts? 

Over recent years, the question has sparked growing debate as the scale and complexity of crises continue to grow. Active conflicts are at their highest level since 1945, forced displacement has soared to record levels, and food insecurity is worsening. 

From Yemen to Somalia to the Sahel and other fragile contexts, there’s a growing recognition that humanitarian, development, and peace actors need to work more closely together. 

A new educational initiative led by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations, and an alliance of NGOs is aiming to change this by providing training for aid and development workers and peacebuilders on how to bridge the divide.

Back to school 

Historically, peace actors and the international humanitarian and development communities – the so-called “triple nexus” – have worked separately from each other, with different mandates, cultures, and practices.  

In some instances, that separation is needed. For example, where development actors will typically work with government institutions on long-term plans, humanitarian workers’ priority is to stay impartial and guarantee safety for vulnerable people. 

But on broader strategies, experts say there’s room for more cooperation. The Nexus Academy, which is being launched today by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), will open its first virtual course next month to help equip organisations and their employees with the skills to do just that. 

“The academy came out of an understanding that we don't know much about each other,” said Rachel Scott, head of the UNDP’s crisis bureau and one of the architects of the initiative.  

 “It is not only teaching people how to work more closely together in these places and how to try and find lasting solutions for some of these crises, but also helping build trust between different sets of actors who don't speak the same language, who don't work over the same timeframes, and who don't do the work in the same way even,” she told Geneva Solutions.

Take finance, for instance. When crises emerged in Afghanistan following the takeover by the Taliban last year, or in Mali and Myanmar following the military coups, financing for development projects came to a standstill. 

“When a crisis happens, [development workers] don’t know how to work with what the UN calls ‘extraordinary circumstances’ of new government structures being put in place after these crises,” Scott continued.

“And this is, I think, the next big challenge for the nexus; what development actors can do when they can no longer work as they used to, and how can humanitarian aid and development finance keep flowing to these places.”

From headquarters to the field

The Nexus Academy will launch its first six-week course online next month following a pilot-run last year.  A cohort of 40 student professionals both from organisation headquarters and the field was selected out of more than 400 applicants.

“If we can take these into country-specific academies going forward, then that will help bring in a broader representation of the community and help localise it as well,” Scott said.

The curriculum was put together by the broad range of organisations involved, including the World Food Programme, she added, and involves a mixture of teaching, simulation, and role play.

While difficult to measure, the success of the programme will ultimately be its impact on the ground, Scott said.

“The end goal is this idea that we will be able to work more coherently together as different actors in the same space on the ground, and that we will deliver real results to people who are living absolute lives of misery.”