Humanitarian Collaborative

Humanitarian Collaborative

SIF165 Humanitarian Collaborative

Project Manager: David Leblang

The purpose of this award is to create a cross-Grounds, interdisciplinary research initiative to address global humanitarian crises.

Approved: Summer 2019

Project Dates: 12/01/2019 – 11/30/2022

Funding Awarded: $600,000

Executive Summary

The refugee crisis has increased in intensity over the past few years and will only worsen under climate change. A new camp model must be created that both helps protect children and improves the environment, health, and education for these vulnerable populations. This collaborative cross-grounds project will look at the consequences for long- and short-term refugees and help figure out interventions, testing them in real-world scenarios. A bridge between democracy and sustainability, the project will bring together public health science, social science, statistics, and policy to look for new solutions for organizations like the United Nations.

Current Status: Active


Our SIF project, originally called the Humanitarian Research Exchange (HRX)—and renamed the UVA Humanitarian Collaborative (HC)1—is motivated by the premise that greater collaboration between practitioners and academics will enrich both research and practice, increasing UVA’s influence within the global humanitarian engagement sphere.

To date, our work has focused on five areas: Early Childhood Development in Crisis; Predictive Analytics for Humanitarian Goals; US/Mexico Border & Migration; COVID-19-Related Food Insecurity in Charlottesville; and Effectiveness in Humanitarian Advocacy.

Our proposal envisioned the development of a platform to efficiently and effectively embed practitioners at UVA on a short- to medium-term basis to collaborate with faculty, students, and staff, generating research and contracts.  COVID-19 forced us to reimagine how we could embed practitioners into our project teams without them being physically present in Charlottesville. To do this, we developed two approaches:

  • Practitioner Partnerships are formalized arrangements (contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants) between UVA and influential global humanitarian organizations. We formed new influential partnerships with the International Organization for Migration (the United Nation’s migration agency), Sesame Workshop, the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, and the German Government development agency (GIZ). Locally, we pivoted some of our efforts to address emerging humanitarian food security needs in the Charlottesville community during COVID-19.
  • Practitioner Fellows2 are experts—scholars, researchers, influential advocates, and operational crisis professionals—who have joined our research teams. While not in residence (and instead based in London, Indonesia, Denmark, and Washington DC), these Fellows allow us to broaden the expertise of our teams, have a more global presence, and disseminate our work more widely.

The pivot to virtual collaboration taught us that: (1) we have tools that allow for efficient and effective global cooperation; (2) working with remote partners can be financially efficient; and (3) global partnerships can support broader engagement and dissemination with wider audiences.

We are proud that even with the chaos created by COVID, we overshot our targets, engaging 35 students, 20 UVA faculty, 20 Practitioner Partnerships, 5 Practitioner Fellows, and leveraging more than $125k this FY in contracts and grants. Our work earned coverage in Scientific American, National Public Radio, Brookings, and Devex and we published research papers in International Studies Quarterly and Comparative Political Studies. Our research has influenced policies for Save the Children, UNICEF, and the German government.