Webinar series: Addressing Power and Decoloniality in Humanitarian Aid

Events, News

A series of three seminars hosted by the Geneva Centre for Humanitarian Studies and Harvard Medical School.

The Geneva Centre for Humanitarian Studies and Harvard Medical School, in an effort to promote an open discussion about the major issues affecting the humanitarian sector, will conduct a seminar series to ask what will it take to redistribute power in the aid sector.

The goal is to introduce, discuss, and frame the issues on the coloniality and decolonisation of humanitarian aid and humanitarian medicine through involving expertise and opinions from humanitarian academy and practice, global health, and action groups. The purpose is to create a base of understanding on which the discussion can proceed productively.

The recording of the first webinar will be posted here on May 27, 2021.


The discussion on decolonisation has been increasing in prominence over the past few years, particularly since the #RhodesMustFall movement in Cape Town University in 2015. The discussion has spread to include debates among students, academics, and practitioners on decolonising curricula, practice, governance, mindsets and whole disciplines like global health (Gruffyd Jones, 2006; Büyüm et al., 2020).

The arguments include a drive to further analyse, understand, and dismantle what is understood as imbalanced and Eurocentric power structures and dynamics in universities and in global governance, which continues to favour ex-colonial countries at the expense of people in the Global South.

The debate

Humanitarian aid has not been immune to the debate particularly after the 2020 resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (#BLM) movement in the United States following the police killing of George Floyd. The discussion about structural racism and coloniality in humanitarianism has generated self-examination exercises and the need for more intersectional approaches to systemic power imbalances in the aid sector.

However, the calls to decolonise the sector have been unequally accepted within the sector. A discussion that touches on the values, principles, and raison d’être of what has always been seen as a benevolent and charitable endeavour, was always bound to create tensions and divisions. This is even more the case considering the sensitivity of the topic and a lack of clarity on the scope and definition of the issue. The conceptual framework in itself is problematic, as the focus on decoloniality erases other structural inequalities at work, such as racism, violence, lack of cultural awareness and diversity.

The discussion on decolonising humanitarian aid has so far been conducted sporadically, either internally within academia or humanitarian organisations or in student groups or private initiatives. However, a constructive and open discussion across the sector remains absent. Similarly, while several publications (both published books or academic articles) have addressed the coloniality and decolonisation of global health, fewer discuss the particularities of humanitarianism and humanitarian medicine.

First webinar

  • The first webinar took place on 26 May 2021 at 20:00 CEST. Panellists discussed the power and coloniality of the current humanitarian sector and how does such a concept apply in policy and outcomes in global health.



Tammam Aloudat, Strategic Advisor, MSF Access Campaign

Tammam Aloudat is a Syrian physician and public health specialist. He has worked over the past two decades for the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). His work ranged from treating patients in humanitarian settings to project management, policy, advocacy, and research. He has researched and written on access to medicines, migrant health, palliative care in humanitarian settings, epidemics, humanitarian ethics, and health equity. He organises, writes, and teaches, under the banner of decolonising humanitarian aid and global health and is a co-founder of Action to Decolonise Global Health (ActDGH).

Alice Cameron, MSF Australia

Alice Cameron has worked with Medécins Sans Frontiéres in a range of paid and volunteer roles since 2006. Alice is an advocacy, communications and engagement consultant who now focuses on Indigenous-led development, community and environmental projects. Of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Pākehā descent, Alice lives in Whakatāne, Aotearoa New Zealand.

Dr. Zahirah McNatt, Assistant Professor, University of Global Health Equity, Rwanda

Zahirah McNatt is the Godley-St. Goar Chair of the Department of Community Health and Social Medicine and Assistant Professor at the University of Global Health Equity. She also serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University. Dr. McNatt has been a consultant in the areas of global health, humanitarian systems, education in emergencies and human rights. Dr. McNatt has more than 13 years of experience in the Middle East, East Africa, the Americas & Southeast Asia, working on health systems strengthening in partnership with governments and research in humanitarian settings. Dr. McNatt was awarded the John and Kathleen Gorman Public Health Humanitarian Award in 2017 and earned her doctorate from Mailman School of Public Health. You can find Dr. McNatt on Twitter @zahirahzahrah1.

Dr. Eugene Richardson, Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School

Dr. Richardson is a physician-anthropologist and an Assistant Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He previously served as the clinical lead for Partners In Health’s Ebola response in Kono District, Sierra Leone, where he continues to conduct research on the social epidemiology of Ebola virus disease and COVID-19. He also worked as a clinical case management consultant for the WHO’s Ebola riposte in Beni, Democratic Republic of the Congo. More recently, he was seconded to the Africa CDC to join their COVID-19 response. His overall focus is on biosocial approaches to epidemic disease prevention, containment, and treatment in sub-Saharan Africa. As part of this effort, he is co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Reparations and Redistributive Justice.


Dr. Valérie Gorin, Senior Lecturer, Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies

Valérie Gorinis is SNF Senior researcher at the University of Lausanne and Lecturer in History in the Unidistance programme. Her areas of research are related to the visual culture of humanitarianism, the history of communication and humanitarian action and to the evolution and uses of photojournalism in modern times. She is currently doing research on virtual reality in humanitarian appeals, and on the link between citizen photojournalism, (eye)witnessing and advocacy strategies in humanitarian settings. More information about Dr. Gorin is available here.

Next webinars

  1. Webinar two (date TBC): A decolonised humanitarianism: Ways of shifting the power balance in humanitarian medicine and the humanitarianism of the future
  2. Webinar three (date TBC): Questioning visual politics and power relations in humanitarian representations


Venue: Online event
Date: 26 May 2021

Register here