The Interview | Joëlle Germanier
How would you present your organization in a few words? What entails your position? What is your goal?
The Centre of Competence on Humanitarian Negotiation (CCHN) is a young but ambitious project. It was founded in 2016 as a joint initiative of five leading humanitarian agencies: the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières Switzerland, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the United Nations World Food Programme.
Today, we work to facilitate the capture, analysis and sharing of humanitarian negotiation experiences and practices to support a more systematic approach to frontline negotiation. We do this by providing a space for dialogue and sharing of negotiation experiences across different humanitarian organisations. We also contribute to scientific research around negotiation processes, tools and strategies and promote collaboration across the humanitarian sector.
At the core of our activities is the CCHN community of practice, a global community of humanitarian practitioners working at the frontlines of humanitarian action.
The CCHN is currently hosted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. We are supported by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) among other donors.
As CCHN Director, one of my key goals is to offer to my colleagues in the field, who are dealing daily with extreme situations, a safe and trusted space where they can connect, share and learn with peers going through similar experiences. By fostering and enabling this global community of humanitarian negotiators, I believe it will improve negotiation practices on the frontlines and contribute to the development of humanitarian negotiation as a domain of expertise.
Among the concentration of actors in Geneva (IOs, NGOs, permanent missions, academia, and the private sector), who do you work with and how?
At the CCHN, we work mainly with humanitarian practitioners who come from some of the biggest humanitarian organisations, such as our five founders. We also work with many local and international non-governmental organisations. In fact, our community members come from over 400+ different humanitarian organisations and 85% are based in field offices.
Besides humanitarian practitioners, we work with a wide variety of actors, including political mediators who make arrangements between parties to a conflict, government representatives who may influence humanitarian negotiations through their political power, and researchers who publish papers and books on the topic of frontline humanitarian negotiation.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of Geneva with regards to the development of your activity?
Through the work that we do with field practitioners, our overarching goal is to promote a change of attitude towards collaboration in the humanitarian sector. We would like to see a more favorable attitude towards learning and exchanging expertise in the humanitarian domain, and even more so when it comes to the topic of humanitarian negotiation.
Working mainly with field practitioners means we can influence this change of attitude from the bottom up. Being in Geneva means we can also affect this change from the top down. Having our headquarters in Geneva has allowed us to continue cultivating our multi-agency identity, which in the humanitarian world makes the Centre quite unique. I believe this access to some of the most important humanitarian organisations is one of the biggest strengths Geneva has to offer.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our activities moved online. This allowed us to reach frontline negotiators who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to join our workshops. It opened up our possibilities, but it also limited the power of face-to-face meetings. Because our core mission is to build a global community of frontline negotiators and because it’s harder to build a sense of ownership of this community in an online setting, it means that we must consciously work to nurture our network and go where humanitarian practitioners are working. As you can imagine, having a single office in Geneva requires a lot of travelling!
In my ideal world, global governance in 20 or 30 years will have humanitarian organisations collaborating more and more to meet the challenges of future humanitarian crises.
Today, the world—and the most vulnerable communities in particular—is facing increasing fragility and fragmentation due to COVID-19, extreme climate events, protracted conflicts, or a rise in migrants crossing borders every day.
With growing geopolitical, social and economic fault lines and increasingly tense environments, humanitarians must still find a way to build trust with their counterparts and provide humanitarian assistance. They are not only expected to negotiate a response to these crises but also to prevent and reduce the risks of politicisation, at a time when the use of misinformation and disinformation has become a serious threat to humanitarian action.
For this reason, the CCHN is organising this year again its World Summit on Frontline Humanitarian Negotiation to rethink humanitarian negotiations and how to effectively respond to future crises. Taking place from 1-3 November 2022, this unique conference will bring together thought leaders, policymakers, government representatives, academics, and humanitarian actors from international and non-governmental organisations. We invite anyone interested to join us in person or to follow our sessions online!
“What is the thing that most inspires you in your current position?”
What I really like about the CCHN team is that we have a great opportunity to support colleagues in the field, giving them a space where they’re able to share their expertise as frontline negotiators. We don’t just create opportunities for practitioners to build new skills, we also help them feel their experiences are recognised and valued. I would have really appreciated being able to rely on this kind of support when I was myself in the field.