“We Are Holding Each Other’s Hand”

“We Are Holding Each Other’s Hand”

On September 19, 2023, Jamila Afghani, 2022 Aurora Prize Laureate and President of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Afghanistan, spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting in New York City. CGI brings together leaders from across the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to take action on the most pressing global challenges.

The educator joined other humanitarians to talk about her personal experience with grassroots activists and local NGOs stepping up to provide immediate response during recent crises and the need to connect these nascent efforts with established humanitarian systems to have the greatest impact on the ground. The discussion was moderated by Heba Aly, Chief Executive Officer of The New Humanitarian, and also featured Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania; Tjada D'Oyen McKenna, Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Corps, and Amanda Brown Lierman, Executive Director of GoFundMe.org.

When talking about the power that local grassroots organizations have as it comes to dealing with emergencies, 2022 Aurora Prize Laureate Jamila Afghani highlighted support networks, specifically women’s support networks, as one of the most efficient tools that had helped her and her organization react to the Taliban takeover. “We believe in the power of sisterhood. We believe in the power of humanity. And that’s why we are holding each other’s hand, and we are leaning on the shoulder of each other. Afghanistan is a very patriarchal country. You know about the Taliban and the bans the Taliban are imposing on women. And still, Afghan girls and women are doing their resistance underground,” said Jamila Afghani.

Tjada D'Oyen McKenna, Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Corps, agreed with Jamila on the importance of informal local groups and pointed out that for a global organization like hers, they remained the most efficient way of making sure you get people on the ground the help they specifically need. “We come into these situations with experience in all kinds of disasters all across the world, but in every place, you have to develop a bespoke solution that speaks to that community in that context, so local actors are critical. In fact, our response in Ukraine is 100% through local actors,” explained Tjada D'Oyen McKenna before adding that, while being aware of local informal networks and watching them for early warnings was crucial, every big NGO should also be “making sure that whatever response that you’re doing does not interfere with those networks.” 

Citing a general need for better coordination in the world of humanitarian aid, the Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama covered the efforts his country has been undertaking recently as a temporary member of the UN Security Council. “We are trying to give life to a platform where everyone in this world of donors, and NGO’s, and companies, and volunteers can get full information about the needs, about who is doing what, about where and when the help is needed, and, of course, through this platform, to get to mobilize more financing, because what we have come to realize during this exercise is that, as a matter of fact, the needs at the humanitarian level are more than $55 billion – I’m talking about this year [alone],” noted the Prime Minister.

Unorthodox solutions may work well when overcoming traditional challenges, argued Amanda Brown Lierman, Executive Director of GoFundMe.org, who reminded the audience that, although that platform had been originally created for individuals looking for solutions to raise money for personal crises, it later grew into a leading crowdfunding platform capable of so much more. “GoFundMe is such a reflection of what is happening in the world. So, when these crises hit, we see this outpouring, this tremendous capacity of people who just want to show up in these moments, want to provide some sort of immediate relief and be a part of this larger impact that is happening,” said Amanda Brown Lierman.

In conclusion, Heba Aly, Chief Executive Officer of The New Humanitarian, has thanked all panel members for sharing their thoughts and underlined a warning tendency in the world of humanitarian response that would hopefully be overridden. “As the needs and the crises increase, we’re seeing that the trend in support to local community groups is decreasing despite a lot of talk about the importance of that, so I hope today we’ve had a few ideas around on how to turn that tide,” said Heba Aly.

You can watch the full video of the panel below.