Sunrise Over Cape Yamu Phuket Thailand Panorama (Kim Seng Suivre/

3 critical questions for the new Humanitarian Leadership Academy

Reda SadkiEvents, Learning strategy

This morning, I’m looking forward to the London launch event for Save The Children’s Humanitarian Leadership Academy, touted by the Guardian as the “world’s first academy for humanitarian relief” that “may revolutionize” the sector. I ask the following three questions as a sympathetic observer: the Academy’s focus on the learning need for improved and scaled capacity in the face of growing humanitarian challenges is spot on. Now comes the execution.

  1. Is the Academy a platform or a hub? There are two possible roles for the Academy: as a connector, hub or platform for others and as a platform of its own (developing and delivering its own content). They certainly can overlap, but then how will the Academy both collaborate and compete for limited resources with already-established specialized training organizations? Is it a knowledge broker, catalyst, and connector – or an implementer? How will Save The Children – which has invested so much in the launch – step back to allow the multi-stakeholder governance model to succeed and recognize that the thought leadership this calls for may reside outside the confines of its established organizations and networks?
  2. What is the Academy’s learning strategy – and how is it different from failed attempts of the past to build capacity through training? What will be the relationship between those who know, those who do, and those who teach? What new learning models will foster cross-cutting leadership, collaboration, and analytical competencies needed – not just technical skills already taught elsewhere? How will it impact the trajectories of humanitarians at different stages of their professional lives? How will the Academy resolve the applicability problem? So far, the Academy’s approach appears to be based on formal learning through training. Can its organizational model foster the kind of informal and incidental learning that is responsible for much of getting things done in humanitarian work – as well as for innovation? Last but not least, how will educational technology be mobilized to help divest of the legacy of face-to-face training that is inefficient, ineffective, and cannot scale to meet the coming humanitarian challenges?
  3. Is it sustainable? DFID’s initial commitment covers 40% of the very ambitious business plan of £50m, and, more recently, the Academy’s touted partnerships with the private sector. This question, from my vantage point, is closely related to the learning strategy question. This can’t be only about more resources for training – even after rebranding as capacity-building – without first rethinking the why, who, and how and, second, reimagining learning beyond training. And that will require the Academy’s new governance to focus first and foremost on the “transformational” aspects of the project.

Photo: Sunrise Over Cape Yamu Phuket Thailand Panorama (Kim Seng Suivre/