By: OLUWATOSIN Orenaike, UNU-EHS

“We have moved from few organizations to over thousands of organizations in humanitarian…, this shows a more representation and dynamic humanitarian network, more data and more output…, however, there is still displacement, neglecting of the displaced, without attention…there is a need for us to be better at working together”

 (Excerpt of the Inter-network day opening speech of the by Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council)

The Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW 2018) for the fourth year was held at the International Conference Centre (CICG) in Geneva, Switzerland from 5-9th of February 2018. As a Masters student in Geography of Environmental Risk and Human Security with the United Nations University of Environmental Risk and Human Security (UNU-EHS), who has taken classes in  “risk and Humanitarian Security” my interest in this year’s conferences is not far-fetched as it held prospects for a possible career choice and of course an opportunity to visit Geneva, Switzerland.

It was my first time in Geneva, and the soft raining snow and range of mountains were welcoming with a chilling weather that felt colder than Bonn, Germany. Geneva owns the highest number, including headquarters of international organizations and UN agencies, one of the many factors that make the city one of the most expensive to live in. Since I was volunteering, I was at the mercy of a welcoming and generous classmate who lodge me for the whole event, without which it would have been possible to attend the conference.

Volunteering for the expert talks, speed networking and registration at this year’s HNPW provided an avenue for networking opportunities to meet and connect with every possible humanitarian experts and agency, NGOs, civil protections, private sectors in Disaster preparedness and response, academies in the humanitarian sector. In addition, getting to attend sessions on cross-cutting challenges in humanitarian response gave me insight into what fieldwork entails, thus expanding my knowledge in the field beyond lecture halls.

The first and last two days (5-6 and 8-9) of the conference were meant for the annual meetings and sessions, while the Inter-Network Day(7th) aimed to connect experts, through the speed networking of registered experts in a group of six engaged in speed talking for about 5 minutes per sessions. However, the duration of each session seemed insufficient for the participant. It was an avenue to get to know, discuss and share contact for further discussion beyond the conference.

The first two days witnessed gradual networking and familiarity, especially between previous attendees and a quick change with the introduction of the Inter-Network Day, speed networking sessions, expert talks, and coffee session. This gave me an opportunity to engage experts in the field, fellow volunteers, students and interns on subjects of interest in the field as well as internship and Job opportunities.

One of the sessions I attended, chaired by Connecting Business Initiative (CBI), an initiative for engaging private sectors before, during and after crisis witnessed a presentation by Mr Fizan Hashian, Sir Lanka’s country director, Asia Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management. He talked about a “Pick Me” project; a collaboration with a private transport firm, which helps in picking stranded victims after a disaster strikes and facilities donations and distributions of relief materials for victims via an android application. This eases reconnaissance and quick response to victims of a disaster. The criticism of the idea, however, is the limitation when victims cannot access their phones or when hindered by data, or bad network.

I must admit that volunteering at the conference was worth the time and money. I have a broader view of different actors and agencies in the humanitarian field and while it may be admitted that the humanitarian field seems saturated with actors, more coordination and inclusion of the private sectors in the discourse is being initiated.