HOD evidence and storytelling

You may find the way the database is currently displayed a little restrictive. Our ambition is to provide data visualisation tools with the new Humanitarian Encyclopedia platform (to be developed in 2020) which will make the database more dynamic and interactive. There will be two kind of data visualisation:

  • “Story telling”

Our experts will extract some relevant stories out of the HOD and provide analytics, like we did in the Humanitarian Evidence Week 2018.

  • “Actionable data visualisation”

You will have interactive buttons to select and cross-differentiate HOD variables in order to make your own exploratory journey.

Eventually you will have the option to download part of the HOD in csv format.

We expect users to enjoy this exploratory experience which will reinforce their appreciation of the HOD’s usefulness, and encourage organisations to contribute to ensure data provided is up to date and accurate.

You will find below 14 samples of evidence articles displayed in November 2018 during the Humanitarian Evidence week.

These ‘evidence’ articles are extracted from initial research phases reflecting:

  • content analysis of strategic and general documents
  • online survey with humanitarian practitioners
  • the Humanitarian Organisation Database

Evidence articles

The first post is a general introduction to the topic, it presents the temporal evolution of the sector.

The analysed data draws upon a database of humanitarian organisations we are currently finalising at CERAH. Organisations are included in the database according to two complementary criteria:

  1. The organisation – whatever its organisational structure 1  – defines itself as a “humanitarian” or “relief” organisation and develops at least 30% of its activities in “disaster”, “emergency” or “crisis” contexts.
  2. Contexts of intervention include conflict situations 2 , natural disasters 3 and protracted crises/ situations of vulnerability 4.

Our database compiles information coming from diverse sources such as various lists of humanitarian actors 5 and existing databases on international organisations 6. So far, we have collected data on 1800 organisations. We plan to gather data on 2500 organisations. Research teams of two coded and double-coded the data to ensure the reliability of the evidence provided. The beta version of the database shall be completed by December 2017.


The graph above shows the number of humanitarian organisations created per year (all types and regional locations of organisations included). Three historical turning points can be identified. Overall, our data confirm what is known about the humanitarian sector, but also reveal original regional patterns which are listed below:

  1. After 1945: the well documented rise in the creation of humanitarian organisations after World War Two has been driven by the creation of European and North American organisations.
  2. After 1965: the birth of the “French doctors” only partly accounts for the increasing number of organisations created in this period. This period is also characterised by a considerable rise in the creation of African and Asian organisations
  3. After 1992: this creation peak is almost exclusively driven by the creation of humanitarian organisations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Note that the oldest organisations – such as the Order of Malta created in 1099 – are not included in the graph. It is worth mentioning that the data refer to the aggregated number of creations of humanitarian organisations per year and does not provide information on the absolute number of active humanitarian organisations per year. Our results show that 94% of the organisations included in our database were created after 1945, 85% after 1965 and 55% after 1992.

In our first article, we analysed the historical pattern of the humanitarian sector. This time, let’s turn to its geographical pattern. This map shows the locations of the humanitarian organisations’ headquarters per state.


Our results are congruent with what we know about the humanitarian sector at two levels:

  1. Europe, North America and Australia host the highest concentration of humanitarian organisations. In these regions, the number of organisations per state varies from 20 to 313.
  2. The sector is geographically diverse: although the concentration of humanitarian organisations is lower in Global South States, nearly all of them host at least one organisation.

Yet, our initial results enable us to more precisely delineate this geographical diversity. Some Global South States host a number of organisations that are very close to European ones (i.e. between 20 and 40 organisations). The top 5 home countries are Pakistan, Kenya, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite the fact that humanitarian organisations created in these countries are relatively young – compared to their Western counterparts – the number of creations follows a specific pattern in each case.

  • 88% of Pakistani humanitarian organisations were created after 1992 and the most intense period of creation was between 2000 and 2004.
  • Iraqi organisations follow a similar pattern: 79% of them were created after 1992. However, two creation peaks of equal intensity can be observed: the first between 1991 and 1992 and the second between 2003 and 2005.
  • The largest amount of “young” organisations can be found in Turkey: more than half of Turkish organisations were created between 2011 and 2013. Interestingly though, Turkey also hosts the oldest organisation, created in 1868.
  • Kenyan organisations have been active over the longest time period. Only 67% were created after 1992. No remarkable creation peaks can be identified in Kenya.
  • Lastly, the creation of Afghan organisations follows a similar pattern to the one observed at the global level : 96% of them being created after 1965, and 60% after 1992. Two creation peaks can be noticed: one between 1987 and 1992, and one between 2007 and 2009.

How can such preliminary results be interpreted?

First, the creation of humanitarian organisations appears to be very sensitive to internationalised intra-state conflicts as shown by the Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan cases.

Second, the creation of humanitarian organisations is linked to state creation patterns. Most of the organisations recently created in Iraq define themselves as Kurdish organisations. The same pattern can be observed in South Sudan which is among the top 35 states hosting the highest concentration of organisations.

With this article, let’s enter the heart of the Humanitarian Encyclopedia project. The Humanitarian Encyclopedia intends to describe and analyse how central terms to humanitarian practice are defined and used commonly or differently by humanitarian actors.

The goal of the project is not to come up with a single definition of such terms but to map and explain the diversity of languages existing within the sector. Our primary focus is on the sector’s lingua franca, English, as we want to understand how – while using a common language – humanitarian actors give a different meaning to the same terms.

To start our journey into this diversity, we have constituted a preliminary corpus of documents which reflect how humanitarian organisations speak of and present their activities. We have privileged documents seeking to strategically position the organisations in the existing humanitarian ecosystem. Drawing upon our database, we have so far collected 319 organisational strategies coming from a wide range of national and international humanitarian organisations. Interestingly the regional composition of our corpus is very close to the regional composition of our database. The representation rate is the same in the corpus as in the database for Central, South American, Caribbean, African and Asian organisations. Our corpus is slightly less representative of North American (20% in the database vs. 14% in the corpus) and MENA organisations (6 % in the database vs. 4% in the corpus). Finally, our corpus includes a higher percentage of European (45% in the corpus vs. 40 % in the database) and Oceanian organisations (6% in the corpus vs. 3% in the database) than our database.

The figure below shows the 100 most frequent terms found in our corpus. Such analysis provides a very general and exploratory view of the terminology used by organisations that define themselves as “humanitarian”. Such frequency analysis only points out words that are widely used by humanitarian actors. It shall be understood as an instant recording of the language used in the sector and does not provide evidence on the importance of such terms for humanitarian actors.


What can we learn from this analysis?
First, “development” is as frequently used as “humanitarian” in the corpus. A detailed analysis of the word shows that humanitarian actors strategically define what they do in relation to development approaches/activities.
Second, terms referring to the activities undertaken by humanitarian actors are predominant. Some denominations particularly stand out:

  • “support” which is closely associated to “vulnerable people”;
  • “management” strongly correlated to “disaster”;
  • “capacity” which is almost always used with “building”;
  • “services” strongly associated to “health”.

In contrast, “assistance” and “aid”, both strongly correlated to “humanitarian” only appear at the 41st and 80th positions.

Third, mentions of areas of intervention are also frequent but some are more predominant than others. “Health” is one of the most used terms (6th most frequent), followed by “education” (35th) and “protection” (54th).
Fourth, the beneficiaries of humanitarian action are among the most represented terms in the top 20 and are often used in combination with each other. “People”, “communities/community”, “women” form a cluster of terms. “Children” and “child” are associated with “disabled” and “families”.

Lastly, mentions of the specific contexts of intervention of humanitarian actors are numerous in this top 100. Frequent denominations include:

  • “Disaster” associated to “conflict”;
  • “Emergency” associated to “response” and, to a lesser extent, to “preparedness”;
  • “Needs” which is associated to a variety of other terms such as “basic”, “complex”, “humanitarian” , “people” and “rights”;
  • “Risk”

The absence of terms referring to the modus operandi of humanitarian actors is remarkable. “Principles” does not appear in the top 100 and is ranked at the 118th position. “Independence” is the most used principle but appears only at the 784th rank, followed by “humanity” (1007th), neutrality (1235th) and impartiality (1266th).

This article is dedicated to the analysis of the geographical diversity of the sector. The graph below shows the 15 most frequent terms, by region.


What do we learn from this analysis?

Firstly, 54% of the 15 most frequent terms are shared by all regions. Among them, two terms “community” and “humanitarian” – also declined as “humanitarian action” and “humanitarian assistance”- are common to all regions.

Not surprisingly, these terms were also reflected in the frequency analysis we did on the whole corpus. We could add to this list a cluster of terms linked to “disaster management” made up of terms which appear with different denominations in several regions. “Disaster risk reduction” is used in Oceania as well as South/Central American & the Caribbean whereas “disaster management” and “disaster risk management” is used in Africa and Asia.

Secondly, some terms referring to the activities of humanitarian actors are frequently used in some regions only. This is the case of:

  • “capacity-building” frequently used in MENA, Africa and Asia only
  • “service” and “service-delivery” respectively used in MENA and Asia

European and North American organizations largely refer to the term “global” when speaking about their humanitarian activities. This is illustrative of the fact that most of the international humanitarian organizations come from these regions. Yet, this does not prevent European organizations from frequently referring to the “local” level, a tendency shared by organizations from Asia and South/Central America & the Caribbean.

Lastly, the analysis provides insights on regional specificities. Two regions share opposite patterns. On the one hand, 93 % of the terms used by African organizations are also used in other regions. On the other hand, 47% of the terms frequently used in South/Central America and the Caribbean are typical to this region.

Let’s continue our exploration of the geographical patterns of humanitarianism with an analysis of the humanitarian transnational flux. The series of graphs below show, for each continent, where humanitarian organizations working in the continent come from.


Europe and North America receive the smallest share of external interventions. Organizations working in Europe are at 83 % European and organizations working in North America come at 81% from North America.

Our analysis provides more original insights on the flux of humanitarian assistance in other continents.


We have grouped Asia and Oceania together since they follow a pattern close to North America and Europe. Organizations working in Asia are predominantly Asian (45%), followed by European organizations (30%). 47% of organizations working in Oceania come from the same continent. The second largest group is formed by European organizations (32%).

The three remaining continents are characterized by unique patterns.


The predominance of African organizations in the African continent is less strong. They intervene in the continent to an extent which is comparable to European organizations. Together both groups of organizations account for 74 % of the organizations active in Africa.

The MENA region is characterized by a great presence of foreign organizations. Organizations born and located in the country only represent 30% of the organizations active in the region. The largest group of foreigners is formed by European organizations (43 %) followed distantly by North American organizations (18%).

South/Central America and the Caribbean hosts the largest amount of North American organizations (33 %) which forms the second largest foreign group after European organizations (40%). The third group is formed by organizations founded in the region (21%).

What do these results tell us?

First they informs us on which organizations go where. Our results confirm that European and North American organizations have the greatest capacity to intervene worldwide. Yet European organizations are much more present worldwide than North American organizations, including in South/Central America and the Caribbean. The third region which exports the most its organizations is Asia, especially to close regions such as Oceania.

Second, our analysis allows to grasp the specific patterns of recipient regions. Most of the regions are characterized by a predominance of regional organizations. This pattern can be linked to several factors. It certainly results from a will to self-manage the response to conflicts, natural disasters or complex emergencies. Since the last decade, several governmental agencies have been created worldwide to manage and coordinate the humanitarian response to crises. It should also be noted that in the case of Europe and North America, the number of humanitarian crises is more limited than in other continents which could help to explain the lack of intervention from foreign organizations. Two exceptions stand out: MENA and South/Central American, Caribbean region.

In this article, we will explore the divergences in the importance each region gives to some terms. The analysis will be based on the comparison of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) consultations reports.

This post focuses on six regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, MENA, Latin America and the Caribbean and Oceania 1.

To prepare the analysis, we manually coded the documents. Codes were created to:

  1. Group the different declinations of a same term (i.e. impartiality, impartial);
  2. Group clusters of terms whose meaning depends on their association (i.e. climate change, disaster risk reduction, early recovery)

We identified an initial number of 73 codes. The graph below shows the co-occurrence matrix of these codes. A co-occurrence matrix is a network diagram that shows the words with similar appearance patterns. It also displays the associations between words and regions, in addition to the association between words. This type of analysis highlights the words which are central to several regions and the ones that specifically characterize one region.


How can we interpret the results of this analysis?

First, only two terms are central to several regions:

  • “need” which is central to the WHS consultations which took place in Africa, Europe, Asia and MENA;
  • “crisis” which centrally characterizes Asian; Latin American and Oceanic consultations.

Second, our graph shows that each regional consultation is characterized by an emphasis on specific terms. Yet, the number of terms is not the same for every region, depending on how each report frames the priorities. Let’s explore some of these specific focuses.

In Africa and Asia, a few co-occurring terms (4) are central. Yet, they reflect diverging priorities. In Africa, the link between a humanitarian and development approach is central as well as a focus on the effectiveness and accountability of humanitarian action. Advocacy appears to be a central practice. In Asia, the role of the “government” (a very frequent term) and civil society is emphasized. Capacity-building also appears to be a regional priority. In terms of context, “protracted crises” is frequently mentioned.

In contrast, the MENA region has the highest number of central terms (8). They reflect some regional priorities: “civilian and child protection”, “displaced populations” (including refugees, IDP and migrants) and “access”. Such priorities could be interpreted as resulting from the current conflict situations affecting the region.

Seven co-occurring terms are particularly central to Europe and Oceania. For Europe, these terms reveal a focus on general issues linked to humanitarian action. Europe is the only region giving a high importance to the humanitarian principles as well as to innovation and evidence. Concerns linked with security and conflict (reflected by “armed groups”) are also predominant. On the contrary, the Oceanian consultation on humanitarian action reveals a specific concern for climate change and resilience, which can be explained by the vulnerability of the island states concentrated in this region. “Community” is by far the most used term in the region.

Lastly, consulted actors in Latin America and the Caribbean emphasize 6 terms which reflect the importance of education, leadership, vulnerability, as well as gender issues for humanitarian practice.

In this article, we explore a specific dimension of the humanitarian sector’s diversity by focusing on faith-based organizations. The graph below shows the number of creations of faith-based organizations per year as a percentage of the total number of organization creations.


What are the insights provided by our results?

They first reveal a general decline in the creation of faith-based organizations. Before 1962, on average 29 % of faith-based organization were created per year. After 1962, this rate dropped to 17 %.

Second, the oldest organizations are mostly faith-based and represent a great variety of faiths. Among the organizations founded between 1099 and 1900, we found Christian, Jewish and Buddhist organizations.

Third, creation trends can be distinguished for two specific groups.

  • On the one hand, most Christian organizations were founded between 1840 and 1900 and between 1940 and 1948. After 1948, the creation rate progressively slowed down until 1990. Since 1991, there has been a remarkable drop in the creation of Christian organizations.
  • On the other hand, the most important creation period for Muslim organizations is between 1980 and 1993.

In Evidence 6, we explored the creation patterns of faith-based humanitarian organizations. Let’s now turn to the comparison between the “faith-based and non-religious humanitarian language”.

The graph below shows the co-occurrence matrix between the most frequent terms used by faith-based and non-religious organizations. To perform this analysis, we coded our corpus of documents as previously described. Contrary to the previous coding exercise where codes were applied only to WHS documents, the results are now based on an initial coding of the entire corpus (319 documents). Given that the number of codes was important (more than 150), we only compared terms referring to humanitarian activities, values and beneficiaries for this analysis (78 codes).


Two results stand out from this network diagram.

First, 64 % of the most frequently used terms have a similar appearance pattern for faith-based and non-religious organizations, which often refer to the same central terms. Among the most frequent terms we find references to:

  • “community”, a term strongly associated to “affected”, “live” and “people” ;
  •  humanitarian action as a “support” activity
  • the link with “development” approach
  •  “health”, as a specific area of intervention

Second, some specificities stand out for both groups of actors.
Faith-based actors emphasize nine terms which they use in a specific way. However, among them, only the term “church” is directly related to faith in our corpus. Other terms have specific appearance patterns for faith-based actors but are used with no reference to religious values. These terms are:

  • references to shared core values and principles such as : “justice”, “dignity”, “equality”;
  • specific relations to affected communities with an emphasis on “empowerment” and numerous references to “culture” and cultural traditions;
  • a contradictory cluster of terms “peace”/”violence” used in association and referring to conflict settings as specific contexts of intervention
  • “mission” strongly associated with “vision”

Specific central terms shared by non-religious groups are less numerous (5). This is due to the fact that non-religious groups form a bigger and more heterogeneous group. They refer to three distinct activities (“protection”, “nutrition” and “education”) as well as an emphasis on the use of evidence in humanitarian practice. Lastly, non-religious organizations put an emphasis on the role of volunteers and voluntary action in humanitarianism.

These results shall be interpreted with caution.

First, they only reflect the specific appearance patterns of some frequently used terms and provide no evidence on the relative importance of these terms for both groups of organizations. Second, both groups include very diverse organizations in terms of organizational structures and geographical origins. Hence, the observed differences may reflect a combination of regional, organizational as well as religious dimensions.

For our last post of the series dedicated to the exploration of faith-based organizations, we will analyse faith-based organization’s programmatic focuses.

The graph below explores the extent to which faith-based organizations included in our database (293) develop programs addressing the needs of specific groups of people. The will to address these groups may be linked to their vulnerability in specific contexts or to the mandate of the organization. For example, some analyses of Muslim organizations have explained the specific attention given by these organizations to orphans and migrants by the fact that the Prophet was an orphan and experienced migrating from one country to another 1.

We consulted the activity report and website for each organization in our database to check for specific programs addressing the needs of vulnerable people. Our analysis was inductive: each time an organization mentioned having a specific program for a group of affected people, we included this group in the database. Thus, we included programs targeting women and girls, children, disabled persons, internally displaced persons and refugees, old people, prisoners. This coding showed that only two organizations out of 1795 claim to focus specifically on the needs of their co-religionists 2.

Targeting may be more or less intense for each organization: some organizations have a mandate specifically targeting certain groups of affected people, whereas others may only develop a program for a specific group. Our mapping does not reflect this difference in the number of programs focusing on specific groups.

The graph below shows for each religious group the organizations which have at least one program specifically aimed at a target group.


What insights are provided by this mapping?

First, faith-based organizations do not exhibit specificities in the tendency to develop specific programs addressing the needs of a certain group of people. Other factors need to be taken into account, such as the specific contexts of intervention, the history and mandate of the organizations.

Second, there is no major difference between the different religious groups. Overall, between 20 and 23% of the faith-based organizations included in our database so far target a specific group of people in at least one of their programs.

In Evidence10, we will present initial evidence on the organizational diversity of the humanitarian sector. This post is an introduction to the topic.

The graph below shows the distribution of organizations by type. The type refers to the composition, structure and legal status of the organization. Let us comment some of its insights.


Non-governmental organizations [1] (NGOs) form the largest group of humanitarian actors. They account for nearly 60% of all organizations. This category includes a very diverse range of organizations, including community-based[2], national[3], regional[4] and international[5] organizations. In this category we also include federations of NGO as well as national offices of international NGOs. Studying the creation patterns of the global population of NGOs reveals two historical turning points:

  • The most intense period for the creation of NGOs was between 1971 and 1992: 37% of them were founded during this timespan.
  • Between 2003 and 2012, the number of creations stabilised at a very high level (on average 22 NGO births per year). 21% of  NGOs was born during this period.

If we consider state and inter-governmental organizations[6] together, they represent 9,5% of the organizations present in our database. Hence, they are the second largest group, far behind NGOs.

The third largest group[7] is formed by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (made up of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). They account for 7,4% of the organizations and are among the oldest of our database: most of them were created before 1958. They also represent a number which cannot grow indefinitely given that, expect notable exceptions, each state counts only one Red Cross/ Red Crescent National society.

Networks represent 6,7% of the organizations in our database. This category includes networks of NGOs as well as global policy networks – gathering governments, inter-governmental organizations, NGOs and even individuals – around a common policy issue. This shows that the expansion of the humanitarian sector is accompanied by the development of cooperation mechanisms among its stakeholders.

Lastly, two groups appear as relatively minor but exhibit different creation patterns.

Corporations and businesses are relatively new and minor actors of the humanitarian sector – most of them being born during the 2000s. This group includes social businesses as well as corporations which provide humanitarian services for profit (logistics, data analyses), mainly to other humanitarian actors.

Religious entities refer to religious orders and religious communities which undertake relief activities. They are among the oldest organizations (the oldest being created in 1099) but also include “young” members born during the 1990s and 2010s.

Throughout the day, we will analyze the extent to which such diversity is reflected in the terms each type of organization uses.

Would you like to comment these results? Please use the comment form below.

[1] Inter-governmental organizations refer to organizations founded by an inter-governmental treaty and involving at least two states on issues of common interest.

[2] After the “others” category which agglomerates diverse organizational categories.

[1] Defined as voluntary organizations formed and organized by private individuals operating at the national, regional or international level cf. Margaret P. Karns, Karen A. Mingst International Organizations: The Politics and Processes of Global Governance, Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2010.

[2] Working in a specific part of their national territory.

[3] Only working in their home country.

[4] Working in the region of their home state.

[5] Working in at least one country which does not belong to the region of their home state.

In this article we explore the organizational diversity of the humanitarian sector. Let us now see how this diversity is translated into the humanitarian “language”.

The graph below shows a comparative analysis of the 15 most used terms by different types of humanitarian organizations.

For this analysis we only kept the four main types of organizations : states, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. We excluded the network category as it mainly includes NGO networks. The composition of organizations in our corpus diverges from the one in the database for two types of organizations. First, NGOs are less represented in the corpus than in the database (49% vs. 59%). Second, the level of representation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is higher in the corpus than in the database (13% vs. 7%). In the analysis below, states are referred to as “donors” given that this group only includes, in our corpus, strategic documents from governmental donor agencies [1].


What do these results tell us about the diversity of the sector ?

They point out the diverse terminologies used by different types of organizations of the humanitarian sector. Each type of organization has its own specific language with more than 50% of the most frequent terms being specific to one type. Development is the only term shared by all organizational types. Let us explore these specificities.

NGOs form the most specific group, with eleven terms frequently used by this type only. Top terms include references to the target groups of humanitarian action such as “community” – shared with the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement – “people”, “child”, and “woman”. A unique focus is made on human rights, as well as on partnerships (though the frequent use of “partner”). NGOs also form the only group which does not use “humanitarian” in its top 15 terms. This can be explained by the fact that most NGO jointly act in the humanitarian and development field.

Donors are the second most specific group with 60% of their most used terms not being shared with other types of organizations. The terms are often used in combination with each other. “Humanitarian” is strongly associated to “assistance” and “policy”. The most frequent terms include numerous references to operational contexts (natural disasters, conflicts, crises). Interestingly, “country” is used in combination with “partner”.

Third of all, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement also exhibits specific patterns in regards to terms use. The most used term is a cluster formed by “Red”, “Cross”, “Crescent” and “Society”. Follows, a focus on “community” and “vulnerable people”. The Movement uses two terms in a distinct way : “humanitarian” is closely associated to value whereas “development” refers to organisational growth. A unique emphasis is also put on volunteer staff and on service.

Lastly, the IGO group also uses some terms very specifically. For this group, “humanitarian” is associated with response and action. There are two distinct mentions of health : one associated with care (health care), the other with service (health service). Displaced people and refugees also appear on the list – the latter often being combined with Palestine. Among their activities, IGOs emphasize a cluster of activities around capacity-building, response preparedness and disaster risk reduction.

Our results also show a unique proximity between two types of organizations. The IGO group shares five key words with the donor group, which illustrates the role states have in the functioning of IGOs. On the contrary, the few words NGOs share with other types are with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

What do these results tell you ? Please share your thoughts with us using the comment form below.

[1] This is due to the fact that the other category of actors “governmental services and ministries” do not base their action on a distinct strategic document, but rather on a national jurisdiction.

For this article, we will explore how the organizational diversity of the humanitarian sector impacts how terms are used. The graph below compares the patterns of occurrences for the most used terms by type of organization.


What insights do these results provide?

First, the four types of organizations in our graph use very few terms the same way, although some groupings can be identified. As shown in our latest analysis, intergovernmental organizations and governmental donors use one specific term in a common way: government. This is not surprising, as these types of organizations are the only ones directly composed of governmental entities.

Some original proximities also emerge: the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement uses the term “crisis” in a similar way to donors, whereas “clusters” is a frequent term used commonly by non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations.

Let us now explore the specificities of each type’s language.

NGOs form the group which uses the lowest number of terms in a distinct way. Still, four terms stand out. They refer to:

  • the importance of programs and organizational processes;
  • a focus on child and gender issues;
  • a unique emphasis on poverty, which could reflect understanding poverty as an underlying cause of humanitarian crises

Donors use five terms in a distinct way. The terms include an emphasis on their own role in humanitarian action (though the frequent use of “donor”) as well as a focus on inter-state cooperation through the United Nations. They also include “partners”, often combined with “countries” to refer to the role of crisis affected states. Their distinct funding and decision-making role is reflected by the use of “assistance” and “policy”.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and IGO groups employ the highest number of terms in a specific manner (7). Yet, these terms are fundamentally different.

Two clusters of terms emerge from the analysis of the Movement’s “language”:

  • one around the role of affected communities, people and the state (“recipient state”);
  • the second referring to organizational processes including numerous references to the Movement’s societies and its objective, as well as a dyad of terms linked to “professional” and “volunteer” humanitarianism.

The last group – IGOs – is characterized by a focus on the importance of capacity-building used in association with capacity. The emphasis is also put on:

  • activities and areas of intervention (health, nutrition, support)
  • the needs of the affected people with an emphasis on the specificities of displaced populations

This day dedicated to the organizational diversity of the sector confirms that it is a critical dimension to understanding the diversity of humanitarian “languages”.

In this article, we will further explore the organizational diversity of the sector by focusing on two types of organizations: state entities and non-governmental organizations.

Let us start by taking a closer look at state entities. The graph below how states engage in humanitarian action.


Several facts stand out from these results.

First, governments play an important role in humanitarian action, but their modes of intervention differ.

Governmental donors mainly come from Western countries.  A closer look at the results shows that these agencies were mainly created in the 1990s. An exception is the MENA region, which hosts several non-Western donor agencies – due to the role Turkey, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia play in humanitarian funding.

On the other hand, governmental services and ministries are mainly concentrated in three regions: South/Central America and the Caribbean (23% of governmental services), Asia (22%) and Africa (19%). These governmental entities are almost exclusively dedicated to the response and prevention of humanitarian crises. Most of these organizations were created more recently, from the beginning of the 2000s up to 2015. This result reflects a trend toward the strengthening of national disaster response capacities as well as the reaffirmation of the sovereignty of affected states.

Second, humanitarian action is a field where states cooperate at the global and regional level.

UN agencies form the largest part of the inter-governmental organizations group. The size of this group is explained by the fact that over the course of their history most UN organizations started developing programs to respond to humanitarian crises, even if it was not a central part of their original mandate.  The 2005 UN-led humanitarian reform also reinforced the UN architecture through the creation of sectorial clusters dedicated to the coordination of humanitarian activities at the global and field level.

At the regional level, the European Union – mainly through the European Commission Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations – is a key player of the humanitarian ecosystem. In 2016, the European institutions were the fifth largest donor[1] in the world. Yet, our results also show that the activism of governments in Africa, Asia and South/Central America and the Caribbean is reflected by the way states cooperate with each other. These three regions include a large range of regional cooperation mechanisms dedicated to disaster prevention, risk reduction and response.

Would you like to comment these results? Please, use the comment form below.

[1] Development initiatives, Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2017, London , http://devinit.org/post/global-humanitarian-assistance-2017/.

Let us continue our journey into the organizational diversity of the humanitarian sector. In this post, we will have a closer look at non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by comparing national and international NGOs.

In our database[1], we distinguished between the following types of NGOs:

  • Community-based NGOs working in a specific part of their national territory;
  • National NGOs which only work in their home country;
  • Regional NGOs which work in the same region as their home country (i.e. a Kenyan organization developing programs in several African states);
  • International NGOs which work in at least one country that is not in the region of their home state;
  • National offices of international NGOs.

We also created a specific category to identify federations of NGOs, i.e. NGOs acting under the same organizational identity, although the level of autonomy of each federation member may largely vary between different types of federations. For this category, we distinguished between:

  • The “umbrella” organization, in charge of coordinating the activities and advocacy messages of the members and often referred to with the “international” denomination (i.e. Caritas Internationalis for the Caritas federation, CARE International for CARE);
  • The mother organization – the first organization that was created with the federation’s name;
  • National branches

The graph below shows the share of national NGOs per region of HQ location.


To perform this analysis we distinguished between NGOs working in their home country only ( community-based and national NGOs) and NGOs working outside their national borders (regional and international NGOs). We excluded national offices of international NGOs[2] as well as the umbrella organization of each federation[3] from this analysis. We also checked the geographical scope of activities for each federation of NGOs’ members to class them in the national NGO or international NGO category.

What do we learn from this mapping?

First, this graph shows which regions host the largest number of NGOs. Europe and North America are the two regions possessing the most, followed by Asia and Africa. The region counting the lowest number of NGOs is Oceania.

Second, our results enable us to identify regions where NGOs have the greatest capacity to intervene in distant crisis locations. These results confirm our analysis on the transnational humanitarian flux : the European and North American regions are the ones counting the largest share of international NGOs (74%). They are followed by South/ Central America and the Caribbean which hosts 67% of international NGOs. The Oceanian region is also characterized by a predominance of international NGOs (88%), but this figure is hardly illustrative, given the low number of NGOs founded in the region according to our database (26).

Third, two regions are quasi characterized by a balance between international and national NGOs.

Asia hosts 56% of local NGOs and Africa 45%.

Asia is the region hosting the largest share of community-based organizations (34% of the total population). Most of these organizations were born between the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1990s. On the contrary Asian international NGOs are rather young and were mostly founded between the mid-1990s and the beginning of the 21st century.

Among the NGOs intervening outside of their national borders, regional NGOs are predominant in Africa, mainly due to the dynamism of Kenyan NGOs in the Horn of Africa and South African NGOs. Africa hosts 20% of the total number of national NGOs.

Lastly, MENA is the only region characterized by a predominance of national NGOs. The region hosts 28% of the total number of community-based organizations and 15% of the national NGOs of our database. International NGOs present in the region are mainly concentrated in Turkey and in the Gulf States.

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[1] Please, refer to the post “Evidence 1: an expanding sector” for a detailed presentation of the database.

[2] The identification of each international NGO’s national office is currently under way.

[3] Given that its role is mainly a coordinating one.