World Humanitarianism Day: What makes a humanitarian?

In the run-up to World Humanitarian Day, 19 August, the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI) asked its staff, students, partners, and wider network '“What makes a humanitarian today?‘ to underline the multifaceted nature of humanitarian work

The UN recognises World Humanitarian Day as a celebration of frontline humanitarians, risking their lives to give aid to the most vulnerable people in the world. It is also a day to acknowledge the importance of not only fieldwork but also of those pursuing humanitarian research and HQ roles.

The responses below reflect the makeup, skills, and varied careers of those working in the humanitarian sector. But, also illustrates how vital their work is, in fighting the world’s injustices and leading positive change for future generations.

Qualities and skills of a humanitarian

Qualities of humanitarians: dedication to causes, helping, give back to society, compassion, ease suffering, remove hardship.

What makes a humanitarian in the field, in research, and HQ roles?

Here's what some of us had to say:

  • 'Working in a policy and research role for an LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity, being a humanitarian today, for me, means working to ensure that everyone has access to a safe and affordable home. It means fighting against all forms of discrimination and making sure that the voices of the most marginalised groups are heard loudly and clearly by decision-makers.'


  • 'I’m a global development worker based in Uganda. To be a humanitarian today means to be able to truly understand barriers to social justice and security for all people (from a bottom-up lens) and be relentless in breaking those barriers down.'


  • 'I am a student doing a dissertation on trade unions and the gig economy. For me being a humanitarian is to strive for a more equal society that ensures human dignity and provides everyone with the opportunity to live a happy and fulfilling life.'


  • 'I work in a psychiatric low secure setting. To be humanitarian today is to have compassion for every person, regardless of their past. To encourage a better future for those who are fighting a battle with their mental health on a daily basis. To be clear and concise in a non-judgmental manner when engaging with others. To work from the heart and not the ego. To remember that we all need help sometimes and should not be afraid to ask. Ultimately, it’s to respect each other no matter what the beliefs, desires, race, religion, etc. are of those who are in your care. And for everyone, you may meet along your own life’s journey.'


  • 'I think that there is a stigma today, where people tend to associate the term of a “humanitarian" to those working on the ground while potentially disregarding those who are working from headquarters (amongst other places). The truth is, and also what is quite beautiful about the humanitarian sector is that there isn’t a specific background that makes you a “humanitarian.” You can be an engineer, a nurse, a researcher, a programme officer, the primary component that unites all of those backgrounds is the desire to alleviate suffering, to show compassion to those who have suffered from the atrocities of arm conflict and natural disasters.'


As leaders in humanitarian research at HCRI, we are proud to champion all of the above and pay tribute to our academics, making an impact in the humanitarian field with research into disasters, humanitarian response, and global health. While also recognising staff working in a clinical setting and our NGO partners.

To find out more about HCRI’s research, collaborations, and partnerships with NGOs, visit our website.

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