Global humanitarian response organizations use advocacy campaigns to call attention to humanitarian crises and drive policy change.

However, there are longstanding questions of how to effectively and ethically do this. Today, mainstream humanitarian policy and advocacy campaigns face challenges, such as how to present needs without being exploitative of those caught in crisis, how to gain policymakers’ and the public’s attention when news cycles are saturated with stories of despair and emergencies, and how to do advocacy on issues that need a policy response but are not yet defined in emergency contexts.


Conflict and disaster have been part of human history for as long as it has been recorded. Over time, more mechanisms for responding to crises have developed and become more systematized. Today a large and complex ‘global humanitarian response system’ made up of a multitude of local, national and international actors carries out a wide variety of responses. Understanding this intricate system, and the forces that shape it, are the core focus of this book.

Daniel G Maxwell and Kirsten Gelsdorf highlight the origins, growth, and specific challenges to, humanitarian action and examine why the contemporary system functions as it does. They outline the main actors, explore how they are organised and look at the ways they plan and carry out their operations. Interrogating major contemporary debates and controversies in the humanitarian system, and the reasons why actions undertaken in its name remain the subject of so much controversy, they provide an important overview of the contemporary humanitarian system and the ways it may develop in the future.

Read for Action

Our flagship project under this theme was the launch and implementation of Read For Action: The Humanitarian Book Club. The project was developed to do real-time engaged research on merging humanities and public policy engagement to find new ways of doing humanitarian advocacy. The project brings together readers with authors, researchers, and humanitarian policymakers to: create a global community of readers interested in humanitarian crises; host online policy and humanities discussions of the novels where authors, researchers, and policymakers connect the books to specific contemporary challenges and global crises; and provide a range of pro-climate and pro-human actions that readers can take collectively to create action at scale. The project was officially launched by UVA and the UN at the 2022 United Nations Climate Summit (COP27) in Egypt. It currently includes more than 1,200 members from around the world (the target was 200 people) and has secured three additional grants from ERI, Brown College, and the UN.

Read for Action: The Humanitarian Book Club

Beyond Aid

We launched a partnership with the Washington, DC-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies to develop a project called Beyond Aid. The project uses qualitative research to gather insights and uncover evidence on where humanitarian aid is making progress. Findings will be turned into public commentary and a podcast that will feature policymakers, scholars, community members, and local and international responders. With the rise of empathy fatigue and continued failures in the global aid system, the hope is that Beyond Aid will provide a new lens for confronting crises and will find ways to help practitioners and the public alike move from hopelessness and despair to compassion, collaboration, and more effective action.

CSIS: Beyond Aid

Feminist Humanitarian Response

The HC team worked with Practitioner Partner, Jeanne Ward, a leading global expert on violence against women globally and especially in humanitarian contexts, to explore how feminist approaches could improve humanitarian response.

UN Sabbatical Global Fellows

Under the Humanitarian Advocacy and Operational Effectiveness theme, the HC launched a new Global Fellows Program in collaboration with the UN. This year, two Fellows contributed to meaningful research on humanitarian policy. Four students (from Arts and Sciences, Batten, and Data Science) were involved in this project.

Ruth Mukwana, from Uganda, collaborated with the HC and UVA Environmental Humanities to complete research and design a pilot on how fiction can be used as an advocacy tool to drive change in humanitarian public policy. As a result of this project, the UN asked UVA to pilot a global book club focusing on the impacts of climate displacement, which will launch at the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt in October 2022. 

Greg Puley, from Canada, examined the impact of heat waves as a leading cause of death in humanitarian crises. This project brought together UVA faculty, scholars from Tufts University, and practitioners from the International Federation for the Red Cross to develop a policy report. The draft report has been completed and will be championed by the UN Assistant Secretary General and formally launched in 2022, well-positioned to influence the next policy framework for humanitarian response and climate change.

Student Testimonials in Fall 2022

Over the course of about 6 months, I worked with another research assistant and the United Nations Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Middle East and North Africa Chief of Section, Greg Puley, on a report about the humanitarian implications of heatwaves. My main contributions included: copy editing the report text; curating graphics to include in the report; and synthesizing key findings to create the executive summary and other synopsis documents, including a powerpoint presentation. The report covers both heatwave-related information humanitarians need to know and recommendations for preventing heatwaves from becoming emergencies. The comprehensive nature of the report allowed us to cover topics like climate science, the sociology of heatwave impacts, and community-based preventative policy options, all with a focus on presenting actionable insights for OCHA decision makers and other humanitarian actors. 

The summer after we finished the bulk of the report (2022), heatwaves burst into news coverage much more than they had in the past, emphasizing the importance of the research we had done, which was both validating and distressing. Being a part of this project has given me a deeper and more personal appreciation for the magnitude of effort it will take to respond to the ramifications of climate change and the inequities they will exacerbate. I can say with confidence that this experience has heightened the sense of urgency I feel to push for innovation in humanitarian operations and climate adaptation.

Anna Grace Calhoun

Over the past few months, Anna Grace and I had the opportunity to serve as Research Assistants to Greg Puley, the Chief of Section for the Middle East and North Africa for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, on his report titled “Extreme Heat: Preparing for the Heatwaves of the Future.” This report provides a synthesis of the impacts of extreme heat, as well as a road map for humanitarian actors as they address these challenges. Throughout this project, our main responsibilities included reviewing the report text, analyzing graphics to include in the report, creating synthesized versions of the report, and citing the report sources in the bibliography.

Working on this report has been an incredibly meaningful experience because the impacts of extreme heat are a reality that will soon be impossible to ignore. Further, extreme heat disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations and has an inseparable connection to the way humanitarian aid is conducted. There is an incredible urgency to this situation, and I am honored to have had the chance to work on a project which can not only serve as an educational resource about the impacts of extreme heat, but also as a tool to plan for and act on the challenges created by climate change.

Lily Toruteva

With the support of the UVA Humanitarian Collaborative, I had the opportunity to attend the Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum (SVRI) 2022 in Cancún, Mexico along with Jeanne Ward. SVRI is the leading global conference on violence against women and violence against children in low- and middle-income countries. As an SVRI delegate, I met researchers and practitioners working on gender-based violence (GBV) from across the humanitarian sector and had the opportunity to present initial findings from an independent research study on the role of feminist leadership in global humanitarian response. This research looked at three selected case studies (Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and the Syrian regional response) to determine the extent to which humanitarian program documents reflected key principles of a feminist approach—such as an understanding of power and privilege and a focus on women and girls.

One of my favorite parts of the conference was getting to co-facilitate a brainstorming session (see photo below) entitled “Walking the Talk: Applying Feminist Principles to Humanitarian Practice and Beyond” along with Jeanne and Iris Nxumalo-De Smidt from the Coalition of Feminists for Social Change (COFEM). This meeting brought together a small group of feminists and GBV experts to discuss how to operationalize feminist principles to improve humanitarian action and will be used to inform the next phase of this work with the GBV Area-of-Responsibility Helpdesk.

Jule Voss


Compassion in Global Action, April 2024

Humanitarian Collaborative Fellowship at World Food Program-USA, March 2024

How Much Good Can $100 Million Do? Sesame Street and IRC Put a Big Bet to the Test, October 2023

Research Roundtable Event for Effectiveness in Humanitarian Advocacy Research Group, February 2020