Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The quiet humanitarian - interview with Andreas Kamm of the Danish Refugee Council


I’ve interviewed Andreas Kamm, Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) for Development Post, a new development quarterly magazine.  I relished this assignment as I think DRC does a fantastic job and I deeply respect and admire what they do. 

 Fittingly, they have just been names as the world's best humanitarian NGO in 2013 by Global Journal, an American magazine which has analyzed  and compared 450 international NGOs and ranked the top 100. To see the whole list, click here.

DRC was formed to address the European refugee crisis caused by the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Today it works with refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in more than 30 countries, including some of the world’s worst conflict zones and most fragile states, such as Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Chechnya and South Sudan. 

It is an unusual organization as it is formed of 30 member organizations and voluntary groups. They are known for using strategic partnerships to achieve better results and for involving and supporting beneficiaries, local communities and local and national authorities in their humanitarian efforts across the world.

Andreas Kamm/courtesy of RDC
When I asked one of Kamm’s colleagues, Mary B. Anderson, to describe him, she said that what she admired the most in him, aside from his obvious managerial qualities, was his kindness: that he managed to deliver and do his job while remaining deeply caring.  I really liked that and can see this kindness reflected in the values of the organization.

I was fascinated by Kamm’s description of how they find new ideas.  Most of DRC’s innovations, he said, originate in the field where staff working there notice various needs and opportunities. Kamm explained: “the SMS-based complaints system our team in Somalia has developed is a good example. It used to be a slow and problematic process to insure that the aid promised was in fact delivered on the ground. The SMS feedback system is an innovation that has paved the way for accountability and dialogue with aid beneficiaries, as communities and beneficiaries can use SMS, Tweeter and Facebook to lodge complaints, point out problems with distribution of aid or mistakes made by DRC.”  Ideas like that are collected from DRC staff all over the world by the headquarter in Copenhagen, then redistributed to all of their projects.
I also liked his suggesting that the world should do more than just removing dictators.  There are currently about 40 fragile states, such as Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the refugee and IDP problem will keep growing because this number is increasing. “We see a need to do more to support the development of peace and democracy in countries of conflict.  We shouldn’t expect problems to simply disappear when a dictator falls, for example, because they actually tend to grow and create many years of instability," he told me.
And on the impact of climate change:  "There might be as many as 200 million people displaced in 2050 because of climate change. This is a huge challenge and it will lead to conflicts, and thus create even more refugees.  The rich part of the world should be willing to do much more to get down to the root cause of the problem and put more efforts into building fragile states – but it is not an easy task.”
Read my full interview with Andreas Kamm in the spring issues of Development Post.

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