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Conflict and Humanitarian Crises Initiative

The Conflict and Humanitarian Crises Initiative focuses on the challenges facing the international humanitarian system in dealing with the dramatic increase in conflict related humanitarian crises.

There are now five Level 3 emergencies: Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Yemen and the Central African Republic. This is the UN’s classification for determining a system-wide emergency activation based on scale, complexity, urgency, capacity and reputational risk.


There are numerous smaller but still sizable conflict related humanitarian crises - Somalia, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and more. Never have there been so many simultaneous large-scale humanitarian emergencies.


The main drivers of today’s conflicts are: weak state governance that fails to address internal political and economic problems; violent militancy by non-state actors that exploit sectarian, religious, ethnic or tribal sentiments; population growth that strains resources while fueling youth radicalism; and climate change, which is propelling competition for resources and involuntary migrations.


These forces are not easily vanquished and are generating protracted displacement emergencies for which old models of humanitarian assistance are inadequate.

The upsurge in conflicts around the globe means that the number of displaced people — refugees and those displaced within their own country — has nearly doubled in the past ten years; the cost of assistance has tripled. With this population of almost 65.3 million refugees and internally displaced people, the international humanitarian system (donor countries, the UN agencies and NGOs)are stressed and strained as never before.


They are facing a set of tasks more complex, expensive and dangerous than ever. The tool kit for dealing with these tasks is woefully inadequate and the resources being provided do not come close meeting the needs.


Dealing with this global emergency will require new, multi-faceted approaches that include a willingness to experiment with innovative models of assistance delivery, continued pursuit of efficiency and less waste, increased generosity from donor governments, expanded engagement from the private sector and a role for development agencies in protracted displacement situations. This is a global challenge of long duration.


Our mission is to initiate and advocate for improvements and innovations that make the humanitarian system work better.

The Conflict and Humanitarian Crises Initiative addresses, examines, advances and advocates for essential changes in international humanitarian practices and government policy. Working with others in the D.C. community at universities, thinks tanks, international organizations and NGOs, we would build a task force focused on these issues. The Initiative fosters an environment where research and critical thinking is consolidated and shaped into effective policy then channeled into practical proposals that help influence decisions by Washington policy makers.


The initiative hosts a series of round tables and panel discussions on important topics on the agenda. In addition, it advocates for change on specific policies and procedure in U.S. government humanitarian action (including funding and policy priorities). 

Program Director

Maureen White is a Senior Fellow and Program Director of the Conflict and Humanitarian Crises Initiative at the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). She is an expert on the refugee crisis in the Middle East.


White was appointed as Senior Advisor on Humanitarian Issues to Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke in the State Department's Office of the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. From 2009 to 2013, she traveled extensively in both countries dealing with needs of people who were displaced as a result of conflict and natural disaster. In the Clinton Administration, she represented the U.S. Government at the United Nations Children’s Fund from 1997 to 2001. In addition, she was National Finance Co-Chair of the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign in 2008 and National Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2006. Prior to that, she had a career in international economic research at the First Boston Corporation in New York, Royal Institute for International Affairs in London, and Nomura Research Institute in Tokyo.


White serves on the boards of numerous organizations involved in international humanitarian issues, including the International Rescue Committee, National Democratic Institute, Center for Global Development, International Women’s Health Coalition, American Academy in Berlin, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Social Justice Advisory Board, and previously Human Rights Watch and Refugees International. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Institute and the Middle East Institute.

Advisory Board

Morton Abramowitz is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. He is on the boards of the International Rescue Committee, the International Crisis Group, and Human Rights in North Korea, and is on the advisory council of The National Interest quarterly journal and Foreign Policy magazine. 


Formerly, he was president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and has held numerous positions in the Department of State. He also served as acting president of the International Crisis Group—a multinational, nongovernmental organization headquartered in Brussels and Washington, focusing on crisis prevention. Prior to joining the Carnegie Endowment in August 1991, he was ambassador to Turkey.


He also has served as Assistant Secretary of State for intelligence and research; United States Ambassador to the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction Negotiations in Vienna; Ambassador to Thailand; Deputy Assistant Secretary of defense for inter-American, East Asian, and Pacific affairs; Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense; Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State; and political adviser to the Commander-In-Chief, Pacific.


He is coauthor (with Stephen Bosworth) of Chasing the Sun: Rethinking East Asian Policy (The Century Foundation Press, 2006) and editor of The Century Foundation Press books, The United States and Turkey: Allies in Need (2003) and Turkey’s Transformation and American Policy (2000).

Madeleine K. Albright is Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and Chair of Albright Capital Management LLC, an investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets. Dr. Albright was the 64th Secretary of State of the United States.


In 1997, she was named the first female Secretary of State and became, at that time, the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. From 1993 to 1997, Dr. Albright served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and was a member of the President’s Cabinet. From 1989 to 1992, she served as President of the Center for National Policy. Previously, she was a member of President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council and White House staff and served as Chief Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Edmund S. Muskie.


Dr. Albright is a Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. She chairs both the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the Pew Global Attitudes Project and serves as president of the Truman Scholarship Foundation. Dr. Albright serves on the Boards of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute and the Center for a New American Security. In 2009, Dr. Albright was asked by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to Chair a Group of Experts focused on developing NATO’s New Strategic Concept.


Dr. Albright is the author of four New York Times bestsellers: her autobiography, Madam Secretary: A Memoir, (2003); The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs (2006); Memo to the President: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership (2008); and Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box (2009).

George C. Biddle is the IRC’s executive vice president and provides executive oversight to the IRC’s U.S. programs, international programs and advocacy departments, which combined operate in 42 countries worldwide and in 23 cities across the U.S. He served as acting president from May to July 2002.


Prior to joining the IRC in 2000, Mr. Biddle was the vice president of the International Crisis Group, an organization that works through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict. He was also president of the Institute for Central American Studies, an organization he founded in 1989 to assist post-cold war Central America in its transition from violent conflict to peace and democracy. He serves on several non-profit boards, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and holds an A.B. degree from Harvard and an M.A. in International Relations from Johns Hopkins.

George Erik Rupp is an educator and theologian who served as President of Rice University, Columbia University, and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). He was President of Rice University from 1985 to 1993, where in the course of his eight years applications for admission almost tripled, federal research support more than doubled, and the value of the Rice endowment increased by more than $500 million to $1.25 billion. He became president of Columbia in 1993. During his nine-year tenure, he focused on enhancing undergraduate education, on strengthening the relationship of the campus to surrounding communities and New York City as a whole, and on increasing the university's international orientation. At the same time, he completed both a financial restructuring of the university and a $2.84 billion fundraising campaign that achieved eight successive records in dollars raised. As the IRC's chief executive officer from 2003 to 2013, Dr. Rupp oversaw the agency's relief and rehabilitation operations in 25 countries and its refugee resettlement and assistance programs throughout the United States. In addition, he led the IRC's advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., Geneva, Brussels, and other capitals on behalf of the world's most vulnerable people. His responsibilities regularly took him to IRC program sites in Africa, Asia, and Europe.


For inquiries, please contact:

Maureen White

Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute

The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies

1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20036

Tel: 202.663.5629

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