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This seminar series focuses on refugee-led assistance and protection in the context of Covid-19. It features panels of individuals whose work is shaping how we understand and support refugee-led responses during crisis. Their accomplishments – whether as practitioners, policy influencers, funders, or community responders – challenge conventional top-down approachesto humanitarian assistance. These approaches are increasingly important in the current context, in which traditional humanitarian capacity has been stretched and forced to adapt. Refugee-led organisations are on the frontline of the response, in both refugee camps and cities. The series will explore how refugees are responding to the current crisis, reflect on how they can be supported by external actors, and consider the prospects for creating lasting forms of participatory humanitarian governance. The majority of panelists are refugees.

Seminar 1: Global agenda setting, from the bottom up: the Global Refugee-Led Network (GRN)

In the first panel of this series, four refugee leaders within the Global Refugee-Led Network (GRN) discuss how this pioneering transnational and grassroots network was formed, what it has accomplished, the challenges they have faced in international fora, and their vision for creating genuine partnership in the humanitarian regime. Subsequent to this panel, the four speakers will co-moderate the remaining seminars in the series.

Seminar speakers: 

  • Mustafa Alio – Refugee Advisor, Co-founder, Jumpstart Refugee Talent (Canada)
  • Shaza Al Rihawi – Founding Member and Interim Chair, GRN (Germany)
  • Anila Noor – Steering Committee Member, GRN (Netherlands)
  • Najeeba Wazefadost – Founding Member, GRN and Asia Pacific Network of Refugees (Australia)

Co-moderated by: Prof. Alexander Betts and Andonis Marden (RSC)

Seminar 2: Without recognition, without assistance: Refugee-led responses in urban contexts

What is distinct about urban-based refugee-led responses to humanitarian crises? And how are grassroots organisations in cities mobilising to address vulnerabilities associated with Covid-19? In this panel, three speakers in East Africa will share what they and their organisations are doing to support refugees in Kampala, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam. Conversation will explore "what has worked" and "what hasn't" in each of these settings, with a focus on identifying how other actors can use their authority, resources, and networks to support local efforts. 

Seminar speakers:

  • Bahati Ghislain – Executive Director, Kintsugi (Nairobi)
  • Robert Hakiza – Executive Director, Young African Refugees for Integral Development (Kampala)
  • Janemary Ruhundwa – Executive Director, Dignity Kwanza (Dar es Salaam)

Co-moderated by: Shaza Al Rihawi (GRN), Prof. Alexander Betts, and Andonis Marden (RSC)

Seminar 3: New partnerships: How international organisations can support refugee-led organisations

What role can international organisations play in supporting refugee-led humanitarian response? And how has the Covid-19 pandemic affected this relationship? In this seminar speakers will examine what exactly should 'localisation' look like, and what have been the challenges and successes their organisations have encountered while trying to advance this agenda. 

Seminar speakers:

  • Dana Al Anzy – Partnership Associate, Civil Society and NGO Division, UNHCR (Geneva)
  • Edmund Page – CEO, Xavier Project (Kenya & Uganda)

Co-moderated by: Anila Noor (GRN), Prof. Alexander Betts, and Andonis Marden (RSC)

Seminar 4: Rapid response to funding gaps: Philanthropic support for refugee-led initiatives

Refugee-led organisations are chronically underfunded. Although their humanitarian activities are understood to be more cost-effective than a majority of other actors', RLOs receive a small fraction of what United Nations operations and other (I)NGOs benefit from. A number of donors and funding bodies have changed their protocols during the Covid-19 pandemic in order to channel money to RLOs. Speakers on this seminar will discuss the efforts they have made to overcome grant-making challenges in order to get RLOs funding as quickly as possible, where it's needed most. Discussion will centre on how the adaptations these organisations have made can be adopted by other philanthropic entities to change the donor landscape in the longer-term. 

Seminar speakers:

  • Anna Crowley – International Migration Initiative, Open Society Foundation (London)
  • Annemieke de Jong – Refugee Livelihoods Programme, IKEA Foundation (Leiden)
  • Anders Knudsen – DEMAC Initiative (Diaspora Emergency Action and Coordination), Danish Refugee Council (Copenhagen)

Co-moderated by: Mustafa Alio (GRN), Prof. Alexander Betts, and Andonis Marden (RSC)

Seminar 5: Limited room to manoeuvre: Refugee-led responses in camp settings


  • Nhial Deng – Chair, Refugee Youth Peace Ambassadors (Kakuma camp, Kenya)
  • Innocent Magambi – Executive Director, There is Hope (Dzaleka camp, Malawi)
  • Samuel Ouma Mijwang’a – Registered Nurse, Emergency Response Team, Kenya Red Cross Society (Dadaab camp, Kenya)

Moderaters: Shaza Al Rihawi (Global Refugee-Led Network), Prof. Alexander Betts, and Andonis Marden (RSC)

Seminar 6: Affecting change from within: Refugees in international humanitarian organisations


  • Joelle Hangi – Intern, Innovation Service, UNHCR Regional Bureau in the East, Horn, and Great Lakes Regions of Africa (Nairobi)
  • Bahati Ernestine Hategekimana – Youth Activities Coordinator, Community Based Protection Unit, UNHCR Kenya Country Office (Nairobi)
  • Foni Joyce – Co-Chair, UNHCR Global Youth Advisory Council (Nairobi)

Moderated by Anila Noor (Global Refugee Network), Alexander Betts (RSC) and Andonis Marden (RSC)