The study produced five Guiding Principles for promising practices in education in emergencies, promoting a transformation in humanitarian relationships and responses. The principles demand a shift in orientation away from traditional or more commonplace thinking and action in education in emergencies. Through pursuing the five Guiding Principles, meaningful and positive partnerships can result and in turn will better support education for those in crisis settings.
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Guiding Principle 1: CARE
Our findings suggest that the principle of care contributes to positive, productive partnerships in EiE. By care we refer to the sometimes intangible ways in which partners interact and approach their activities while collaborating with one another as fellow humans rather than merely fellow humanitarians and/or education professionals. Care includes basic human behavior such as kindness and thoughtfulness, as well as empathy for one another’s circumstances. Care also derives from a degree of vulnerability, through which partners come to know one another’s struggles and strengths, both professionally and personally. Care allows partners to truly grasp one another’s needs, including for flexibility and understanding.
Guiding Principle 2: TRUST & RESPECT
The related principles of trust and respect together contribute to partnership success in EiE. The two go hand-in-hand; each depends on the other. Respect includes recognition that all partners hold strengths and capacities to conduct their work, and although these capacities may differ from partner to partner, each must be considered valuable and necessary.
Guiding Principle 3: ONGOING & ORGANIC COMMUNICATION
Our research found that ongoing and organic communication led to stronger partnerships. Through genuine, oftentimes unscheduled communication through various means—be it virtual, over phone, messaging apps, email, or in-person—partners come to better know each other, understand each other’s goals and ways of working, and trust one another. Coordination depends upon communication, and communication leads to additional positive outcomes, such as knowledge sharing, transparency, care, trust and respect. Through ongoing and organic communication, other valuable practices naturally follow. In this way, communication can foster more meaningful relationships, while reducing a competitive environment.
Guiding Principle 4: MUTUAL LEARNING & MULTI-DIRECTIONAL KNOWLEDGE SHARING
Our study highlighted several partnership activities, at global and local levels, that demonstrated the ways in which partners effectively share knowledge and learn from one another. This sharing and learning is multi-directional—in particular, between different types of organizations which occupy different roles, and regardless of resources, size, and location. For instance, partnerships that embrace mutual learning occur when those from the Global North position themselves as learners, as opposed to those who “build capacity” in the Global South.
Guiding Principle 5: SELF-REFLECTION & INTERROGATION OF POWER DYNAMICS
Humanitarian organizations often cite the goal of achieving “equitable partnerships.” We recognize this aim as attainable in the long-term. But gaining true equity would require massive structural changes and a widespread anti-colonial shift in the international development and humanitarian industries. Our analysis suggests that a first step towards ameliorating power imbalances involves acknowledging who embodies positions of power and why, and how this power relates to colonialism, capitalism, and racism.Only when some people become open to relinquishing positions of power can asymmetries shift.
Transformational Shifts in Humanitarianism
Each of the five guiding principles involves a shift, which suggests the need for a more overarching transformation in traditional ways of operating in the humanitarian sector.
Not only must actors change practices, self-perceptions, and approaches, but humanitarians must be open to dismantling ways of operating, including but not limited to partnerships.
In order to achieve permanent, structural change in humanitarian action, the industry—including aid mechanisms, policy development, advocacy, program development, and project implementation—must adopt an explicit anti-colonial and participatory mandate.
But although structural change must occur in order to facilitate and make permanent major shifts in humanitarianism, we propose that individuals and organizations can begin to spur such transformation through changing their own practices and beliefs.
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A Shift from Saviorism to Care
More traditional or commonplace approaches to EiE often derive from a place of benevolence or charity. While these might be considered positive attitudes, they risk embodying saviorism, where partners who perceive themselves to be in a more privileged position act as though the other partner requires rescuing. Such motivations and positionalities focus more on those providing aid and assistance (often from privileged communities and the Global North), in a one-directional sense, rather than a focus on local partners as people, with challenges and struggles, but also agency, knowledge, ingenuity, and capabilities. Care is multi-directional; all partners must care about the wellbeing of all others.
A Shift from a Culture of Monitoring and Outputs to a Culture of Trust and Respect
In those partnerships characterized by historic power asymmetries, dominant actors tend to dictate what values and goals are important. Instead, our findings suggest that partners ought to respect one another’s values and goals, even in the case that they differ. When partners trust and respect one another, they communicate well, embrace full and active participation of one another, recognize inequities and act to remedy these. Such partnerships avoid an approach that emphasizes efficiency and dictates top-down, output-driven projects, via reductive micro-management and constant monitoring of data.
A Shift from a Focus on Coordination to Communication
Coordination—one of the foundational INEE Minimum Standards and a widely agreed-upon factor in effective EiE programming—is touted as a means to achieving efficiency in partnerships, leading to less duplication, more complementarity, and successful outcomes. Yet the focus on coordination aligns primarily with a Northern-based discourse. Despite the importance of coordination and its contributions to effectively delivering aid and other services to those affected by crises, in considering how partnerships operate, ongoing and organic communication is key.
A Shift from Capacity Building to Mutual Learning
Partnerships that embrace mutual learning occur when those from the Global North position themselves as learners, as opposed to those who “build capacity” in the Global South. The term “capacity building” has pervaded the development and humanitarian sectors, but our findings suggest that this one-directional (and paternalistic) concept does not capture how effective partnerships operate.
A Shift from Power Imbalances to Self-Reflection through Awareness and Interrogation
Our vertical analysis, at each level and through each set of data, revealed that power imbalances pervade partnerships in EiE. In particular, actors from the Global North and organizations with resources hold positions of power. Power dynamics reflect structural, systemic, and direct forms of inequities, sometimes economic, often racialized, and colonial. Power asymmetries also emerge between racial and ethnic groups, for instance as xenophobia against refugee communities. Our study suggests that some partnerships might never achieve true equity—in particular, when resources and funding come into play, inequities might remain entrenched. But meaningful partnerships which result in positive outcomes, based on care, trust, respect, and mutual learning—can be achieved when everyone involved moves toward awareness of structural power asymmetries.