Humanitarian Assistance: Truly Universal?

Mutual respect and common interests as entry points for cooperation with non-Western humanitarian donors

October 2009 – December 2013

Project context

The current humanitarian system is dominated by Western donors. Despite increasing and sometimes very significant humanitarian aid contributions of donors such as India, China or Saudi Arabia, these states are under-represented in the relevant international humanitarian norm setting and coordination fora. This exclusiveness is particularly harmful given the spreading perception of humanitarian action as a political tool of Western governments.

Greater inclusiveness would make the humanitarian system more legitimate. It would also provide the humanitarian system with a broader range of cultural knowledge and thus support dignified and effective interaction with affected populations and governments. Some Western governments and individual humanitarian agencies have already taken actions to cooperate with new donors. However, these initiatives remain isolated and largely symbolic, lacking scope and sustainability. GPPi’s research indicates that one essential stumbling block to closer, longer-term collaboration is that many non-Western donors are still a “black box” for established donor governments and aid agencies. There is a lack of in-depth knowledge and understanding about the culture of emerging donors towards giving, their internal policies and procedures, as well as their larger foreign policy interests that construct the background for their approaches to humanitarian aid. 

Project objectives and implementation

The Truly Universal research project aimed to develop a deeper understanding of the norms, interests, policies and operational procedures shaping the humanitarian aid of selected non-Western donor countries. Drawing on foreign policy analysis and humanitarian studies, the project provided a detailed analysis of overlapping interests and potential avenues for cooperation between established and emerging donors, as well as potential risks and current impediments to cooperation.

In the first phase, GPPi conducted a comprehensive mapping exercise regarding current trends in emerging humanitarian donorship and existing cooperation initiatives of non-Western and Western humanitarian donors. Based on desk research and interviews, the mapping study determined the analytical framework for the remainder of the project and allowed for an informed selection of case studies.

In a second step, GPPi, in cooperation with researchers from the respective countries, undertook two detailed country case studies on India and Saudi Arabia in order to analyze the emerging donors’ approaches to humanitarian aid, their institutional setup and concrete activities, as well as their overall foreign policy. Both studies include an analysis on obstacles to and opportunities for cooperation between established and emerging donors.