In the 1970s and 1980s, some of the larger humanitarian organisations – many of them based in Geneva – started offering operational training for humanitarians. A decade later, in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide, the Balkans war and the ensuing mass mobilisation of new humanitarian actors, the need to ‘professionalise’ the sector became evident.

Back then, there were no academic courses on humanitarian action, but thanks to the University of Geneva, a number of international organisations and the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 1998 a Plurifaculty Programme for Humanitarian Action – PPAH, was born.  The Plurifaculty Programme for Humanitarian Action was the first iteration of the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies, and the objective of this visionary programme was to offer high-level, continuous education for humanitarian practitioners.    

In 2004, the programme was radically transformed under the impulse of the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), and re-named PIAH – Interdisciplinary Programme in Humanitarian Action. PIAH offered a wider course programme including a Master of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Action, in partnership with International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières Switzerland.

CERAH – Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action, was created four years later, in 2008, as a result of the partnership between the University of Geneva and the IHEID. In 2012, the Centre expanded its course offer by adding to the Master DAS, CAS and Executive Short Courses. In 2017, the Centre launched its Humanitarian Encyclopedia research project, and in 2018 it celebrated its 20th anniversary.

In June 2020, we have evolved further and became the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies. The new name reflects a new vision for the Centre: we intend to use 2020 – a challenging year for everyone – as a foundation to learn and build on our experience of distance learning and research collaborations, to assess what further transformations are needed and feasible to increase access and availability of our courses and research to frontline humanitarian workers and organisations.

Our new visual identity puts our key audience, humanitarian professionals, centre stage. We use portraits of real doctors, project managers, nurses, communications professionals immersed in different humanitarian contexts to show the richness and the diversity of what our tagline “improving humanitarian response” really means. We, together with our students and partners, are part of this global commitment.