I asked three questions, four years ago, as a sympathetic observer eager to see a learning organization – launched with much fanfare and 20 million British pounds of DFID support – help improve humanitarian work.
Never really got an answer. Until today.
It turns out that the Humanitarian Leadership Academy is being absorbed into the UK’s largest international NGO. (Save the Children originally lobbied for the Academy’s startup funding and hosted it, yet never entrusted the Academy with its own training…)
The Academy consistently touted the snake oil of gamification or fads like the “Social Age” under the guise of “innovation” (often seemingly for its own sake), fig leaves for a startling lack of strategic thinking and an eerie vacuum of learning leadership. Never mind the questionable donors, it is now clear that the Academy’s roots in charity and “free training” made it mission impossible to not just explore but invent and then execute new business models to generate revenue from training. However, the worst contradiction, in my view, is that the Academy chose to focus on transmissive learning models (such as “click-through” e-learning, known to be ineffective, limited to improving recall, which may be one of the least-needed skills needed by humanitarians) aimed at cramming global knowledge down the throats of local actors… while preaching the localization of aid. This was unlikely to lead to a sustainable approach, to put it politely. (Unfortunately, it is unlikely that such poor choices will be reconsidered in the merger.)
It requires a leap of faith to hope that the many strengths of the UK’s Save the Children might enable what is left of the Humanitarian Leadership Academy’s mission to find more productive paths to make a difference, given these choices of the past.
I wish Saba (a brilliant Save the Children career executive who, in the past, excelled at navigating its internal politics) and her team (those that remain, as some senior managers jumped ship early) the best and continue to fervently hope that they will find productive ways to advocate for the strategic relevance of new ways to learn in order to achieve impact.
Photo: Inside the Globe of Science and Innovation, CERN, Geneva, Switzerland. Personal collection.