On a dark November night, namely the 21st of November 2017, Johan Schaar spoke about his experiences of working within development, in front of 40 eager students. All were excited to hear what the former manager of the Swedish Aid Program in Palestine and member of the Expert Group on Aid Studies (EBA), with a longstanding engagement at Sida and the Red Cross, had to tell.
Johan Schaar begins with an enriching presentation about his longstanding experience working for the Red Cross in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. He points out, that organisations are passive and suffer from permanent amnesia if experiences and lessons learned are not actively taken into account and applied. This is important, says Johan Schaar, in order to improve their performance regarding short-term disaster relief and long-term prevention programs.
Specifically, Johan Schaar mentions two learning points during the 1980s humanitarian aid in Ethiopia to combat famine. The Red Cross recognized the need of implementing long-term projects rather than only short-term disaster relief programs to provide for people not to get stuck in the same situation again. Also, it became clear, that the local political context is important to understand, as it affects all humanitarian work that takes place within the barriers of such context.
This leads us to the next step in Johan Schaar’s career, namely as Head of the Humanitarian Division at Sida in 2000. He reflects on playing a crucial role in developing the Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD) principles together with other donor countries. These principles were established to counteract the politicization of humanitarian work. Johan Schaar explains that during the floods in North Korea in 1997, the regime asked the Red Cross for disaster relief, but that it soon became clear that there was a system collapse and that the disaster had not only be provoked by the floods. With this in mind, the organization had to play the role that the regime had defined. The GHD principles serve as guidelines of humanitarian work, such as not to be involved in any political issues, but to alleviate all immediate emerging crises.
According to Johan Schaar there is also need for a stronger cooperation between the areas of humanitarian aid and development. He states that in average a refugee is a refugee for over 15 years, which makes clear that there is need both for short-term humanitarian crisis relief and long-term development, including the shape of social processes to address the problems.
Lastly, the students’ eagerness was rewarded with some useful thoughts on how to enter the development labor market. He pointed out that it is important to equip oneself with an own professional identity and to take into account that there are many different roles within development that have to be occupied. In other words, there is space for people coming from different academic backgrounds and with a great passion for global issues.