A humanitarian academy at HSPH

Fall 2011 ]

Plans are underway to create a new Humanitarian Academy at Harvard School of Public Health, the first global center dedicated to training and teaching the next generation of humanitarian leaders. Approximately 240,000 humanitarian workers worldwide provide billions of dollars in services to millions of aid recipients through relief organizations in more than 100 countries. But in contrast to other large professional pursuits, no major academic programs exist to educate humanitarian aid practitioners in the key principles of their field, such as civilian protection, coordinated aid, and service delivery.

The Academy will provide leadership training–both for undergraduate and graduate students as well as for leaders from humanitarian organizations–in areas such as human rights, disaster response, and crisis leadership. The Academy will also develop innovative ways to evaluate the effectiveness of humanitarian aid in order to better serve people in times of war, conflict, and disaster.

The Academy is supported by $300,000 in initial seed funding from J. Fred Weintz, Jr., through the Harbor Lights Foundation, which he founded in 1980. Weintz, a graduate of Harvard Business School, is a member of the HSPH Leadership Council and longtime supporter of the School. His family has many years of involvement with humanitarian teaching, training, and global fieldwork, at Harvard and beyond. Weintz’s late first wife, Betsy, was a founding donor of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), and his son Eric practices emergency medicine and previously worked for AmeriCares at disaster sites in more than 20 countries. All Weintz’s children serve as trustees for the Foundation. “It seems to us that all you have to do is look at the front page every day to see these kinds of crises arising more and more,” says Weintz. “Maybe it’s a drop in the bucket, but we aim to improve the way disaster relief is taught and handled around the world.”

The Academy will coordinate the educational and training activities of several University-wide initiatives, including HHI as well as the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights and the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. It will also convene faculty from around Harvard who are engaged in humanitarian studies. Ultimately, the Academy aims to define a new field in education while gathering a community of academics and experts committed to worldwide humanitarian issues.

“Without Fred and his family’s support, much of what we have accomplished would not have been possible,” says Jennifer Leaning, director of the FXB Center and François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at HSPH. “Mike VanRooyen, director of HHI, and I are deeply grateful not only for the family’s generous philanthropic support but for their guidance and advice, which has improved our thinking and practice over the years. We are excited to take this important next step in professionalizing humanitarianism.”


Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters