Effectiveness in Humanitarian Advocacy

Interior of a tent showcasing the current humanitarian crisis in Venezuela with dirty mattresses, torn towels, ripped clothing, shoes with no laces, an empty water jug, and a pair of children’s stuffed animals.
The Towards a Better Latin America's exhibit at “A Venezuelan Journey: The Search for a New Home” event co-hosted by The Humanitarian Collaborative.

Global humanitarian response organizations use advocacy campaigns to call attention to humanitarian crises. These communication efforts call for individual and government action to alleviate human suffering. Despite these efforts, we still don’t know the best way to effectively and ethically accomplish this goal.

Our team of faculty, students, practitioners, and community members work to help us find new answers to these long-standing challenges.

The Team

Faculty, Staff and Students

Our core faculty and staff oversee the Global Policy Center and promote research and education within the humanitarian sector.
  • Adrienne Ghaly

    Postdoctoral Fellow, College of Arts and Sciences

  • Alison Criss

    Associate Professor of Microbiology and Director of the Global Infectious Disease Institute, School of Medicine

  • Brooke Ray

    Former Operations Manager, Global Policy Center

  • Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch

    Research Associate Professor, School of Education and Human Development

  • Jennifer Rubenstein

    Associate Professor of Politics, College of Arts and Sciences

  • Kirsten Gelsdorf

    Professor of Practice of Public Policy, and Director of Global Humanitarian Policy, Batten School

  • Laurie Findley

    Research Assistant

  • Noah Strike

    Research Assistant

  • Sophie Trawalter

    Associate Professor of Public Policy and Psychology, Batten School


Investigating The Uses Of Literature For Humanitarian Advocacy

As a member of the University of Virginia Global Policy Center’s Humanitarian Collaborative (HC), Professor Adrienne Ghaly created the project, “Investigating the Uses of Literature for Humanitarian Advocacy,” to explore what kinds of literature – and ways of reading – most effectively foster not only sympathy for the experiences of others, but also active engagement with the global, contemporary challenges of displacement, refugees and migration. Funded by a Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation Grant, Ghaly ran a spring 2019 seminar for first-year undergraduates, and with HC member Noah Strike as her Research Assistant, to investigate fiction’s potential to increase support for, and pro- humanitarian behaviors towards, displaced communities. The pilot produced an initial prototype for a digitally disseminated reading campaign on global displacement. This included an accessible core bibliography in multiple languages, downloadable ‘framing’ podcasts for each text, a social media dissemination plan, together with recommendations for specific pro-humanitarian actions readers can take in their daily lives. Based on this work, UNOCHA wants to partner with UVA to develop and launch a Global Humanitarian Book Campaign.

Dis/placement: Uncertain Journeys

DIS/PLACEMENT: UNCERTAIN JOURNEYS is a multi-year collaborative art project that cultivates artistic responses to disaster displacement. It supports the state-led Platform on Disaster Displacement, a group of States leading and working together toward better protections for people displaced across borders in the context of disasters and climate change. Through exhibitions that provide policymakers an opportunity to reflect upon and understand disaster displacement from a visual, experiential and emotional perspective, DISPLACEMENT hopes to create engaging spaces that inspire ideas that might not otherwise emerge around a conference table, and which keep the human story at the center of policy discussions. It seeks to collaborate with artists from the most disaster-displacement-affected regions to share their work in policy discussions. For the 11th Global Forum on Migration and Development Summit taking place in Marrakesh, Morocco as part of Migration Week, DISPLACEMENT presents an exhibition of contemporary art pieces from around the world to highlight challenges and solutions related to disaster displacement.

(W)here To Stay?!

Inspired and jointly supported by the Humanitarian Collaborative and the Peace Appeal Foundation, (W)HERE TO STAY?! is a collaborative exploration of the importance of place, belonging and community in Charlottesville

If you were forced to leave your home, where would you go, what would you do? How would you find a place to stay? How would you know if here is a place you can stay permanently? What would contribute to your sense of belonging? (W)HERE TO STAY?! is a series of events and exhibitions designed to generate conversation, reflection and creative expression responding to issues of displacement in Charlottesville.

“Emergency,” “Crisis,” Or “Disaster?”

Emergency claims can be powerful. In humanitarian contexts, emergency claims are used to defend the use of violent force (e.g. “humanitarian” military intervention), direct attention and resources to particular situations, and justify violating normal rules and procedures (or shifting to a different set of rules and procedures). Emergency claims only have these effects, however, if they succeed—that is, if they are accepted by relevant audiences. What makes emergency claims succeed in humanitarian contexts?

Sometimes photographs and videos play a dominant role. In other cases survivor, aid workers, and journalist testimony is key. In yet other cases, formal technical criteria and standards are decisive. These elements of emergency claim-making often function together; sometimes images motivate people elsewhere to view a situation as an emergency, and those people then demand an investigation. These different media of emergency claim-making persuade audiences. This project aims to investigate the role of technical standards and criteria for what counts as an emergency in emergency claim-making. The output of this research might help practitioners and researchers alike better understand the broader context of emergency claim-making in which images play a role.

IRC New Roots Photovoice Exhibition

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. The IRC in Charlottesville has welcomed almost 4,000 individuals into the community since opening its doors in 1998, resettling an average of 250 clients each year. As the only agency providing resettlement and ongoing professional services to support successful integration in the area, the IRC offers essential services to refugees, asylees and other eligible immigrant groups, including case management, employment assistance, medical case management, family support services, health and wellness programs, and immigration services.

One important IRC program is New Roots, which works with New Americans in support of their health, community connection and household economics through food and agriculture. Last year, New Roots served more than 200 people through its programs: Community Gardens (home gardening), Micro Producer Program (farming for market), Nutrition Orientation, Michie Market and Fresh Fund (New Roots neighborhood farm stand and produce incentives), social support groups, and the Charlottesville Food Justice Network.

The New Roots PhotoVoice Exhibition is the culmination of a collaborative research project between the International Rescue Committee and its participant co-researchers in the New Roots program. Co-researchers then collaboratively synthesized hundreds of images into the most important and valuable themes and their associated stories. Through exhibiting their own photographs, refugee and immigrant farmers explored the question “How has New Roots affected my life?” The project provides the IRC New Roots program with insight into their work through a participatory and community driven process using the universal language of photographs.

Photovoice is a participatory action research (PAR) method that involves individuals taking photographs and participating in group dialogue to deepen their understanding of a community project, issue or concern. The visual images and accompanying stories are the tools used to reach policy- and decision-makers.

Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris first pioneered this method in community-based participatory research with marginalized populations in the 1990s . In contrast to "photo elicitation," an approach where interviewers use photos as symbolic reference points to guide discussion, Photovoice puts cameras in the hands of people, to photograph their lives. These images combine with narratives to share points of view which are often hidden or underrepresented. Participants become co-researchers whose images build the context and set the focal point for discussion.