Dispatches From the World Humanitarian Summit: Giving Everyone a Voice

Leaving Istanbul, with the inaugural World Humanitarian Summit now behind us, I remain optimistic in humanity's shared future. But impact cannot be measured by what was said in Istanbul; it is what we do next that matters. We have to follow up our lofty words with concrete and decisive actions.

I am hopeful that progress will come because I believe that the international community is redefining what humanitarian aid is, and we are doing so in a way that will allow us to make significant advances over the coming years and decades in solving some of the world's most intransigent problems.

In speaking with dozens of representatives from national governments, NGOs, businesses, and vulnerable communities this week, it's clear to me that we are moving away from the notion that humanitarian aid means high-income countries throwing money at low-income countries' problems. Rather, it means that all of us are working together to find solutions to the challenges facing our world. Because the truth is, in this modern age, what affects one affects all, and there are no such things as "low-income-country problems."

It's fitting, I think, that the first speaker at the World Humanitarian Summit's opening ceremonies on Monday wasn't the Secretary-General, a head of state, or a foreign minister. It was a young man named Victor Ochen. The very first voice that the thousands of people who came to Istanbul this week heard belonged to a victim of Uganda's civil war.

This was more than a symbolic gesture: We cannot start working together until we begin listening to one another. I was honored to share the stage with Victor on Monday and listen as he moved the audience with his story of resilience and forgiveness. In the coming months and years, it will be important for us in the peacebuilding and development spheres to continue listening to and empowering individuals in vulnerable communities.

One way to do this is to find new ways to give a voice to people who previously were not heard by leaders and aid practitioners. To this end, as we presented during the Summit, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative works closely with Ericsson on an initiative called Connect To Learn, a program that seeks to promote access to ICT education and skills in fragile communities.

Many people are surprised when I tell them that ICT education--training youth in how to use phones, tablets, and computers--is an important part of all of WPDI's peacebuilding initiatives. But not only do these technologies give young people important skills that make it easier for them to find jobs; ICTs also connect individuals to each other and to the global community.

When well-intentioned young people in vulnerable regions are connected to each other, they are better able to collectively tackle the challenges facing their communities. When they are connected to the world at large through the Internet and social media, they are better able to have their voices heard.

The World Humanitarian Summit is over, but our commitment must endure. In order to truly empower people in conflict-impacted regions to build lasting peace and sustainable development, we can't simply open our ears for a two-day conference and then go back to business as usual. This has to be the start of a true global partnership between aid deliverers and aid recipients, one based on mutual respect and on the principle that all voices deserve to be heard.

NOTE: This is the third post in a three-part series chronicling Mr. Whitaker's thoughts and experiences from the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Here are the first and second posts. For other updates from the summit, check out the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative's Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram streams.