Rethinking aid system narratives: The case for collaborative leadership


  • Nigel Timmins
  • Joshua Hallwright



disasters, humanitarian, disaster risk reduction, development


Disasters—whether so called ‘natural’ disasters or conflict related crises—are a growing challenge. Their impacts have a profound impact on development outcomes since disasters at best mitigate against development gains, and more commonly lead to development losses, particularly for people living in poverty. Yet while disasters are often treated as exceptional events, they in fact highlight failures in our development pathways—and expose the humanitarian and development system as unfit to respond adequately to these challenges. This paper reflects on the ways of thinking and incentives that shape the behaviour that leads to the perpetuation of this siloed and reactionary system and argues that there is a need to re-frame disasters as contextual factors rather than exceptional events within the development framework. Additionally, there is a need to support leaders who collaborate, instead of working to achieve individual success for their department or institution, and to strengthen accountability to make the development and humanitarian system more effective in supporting disaster affected and at-risk communities.


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Author Biographies

  • Nigel Timmins

    Nigel is co-founder of CollaborANTS, and an Associate of the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership. He has worked in international humanitarian assistance since 1996 and now works as a consultant, recently contributing to papers on the performance of the humanitarian sector with Humanitarian Outcomes, and on research and innovation in the sector for Elrha. Nigel was a founding Trustee of the Start Network and the Global Network for Disaster Reduction, Chair of the CaLP Network and served as a member of the IASC Emergency Directors Group. He was a co-author of the Core Humanitarian Standard (first version), and a focal point for DRR in the 2011 version of SPHERE.

  • Joshua Hallwright

    Josh is a humanitarian specialist who has worked for a wide range of organisations, including Oxfam, UN OCHA, Red Cross, MSF, and AusAID in Australia, the Pacific, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. His research interests lie in the evolution of the humanitarian system, how disaster responses are financed, the use of advanced technologies in the humanitarian sector, and how to connect the local with the global. Josh is currently the Deputy Director of the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership, focusing on its strategic priorities, partnership development and engagement, and business sustainability.


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How to Cite

“Rethinking aid system narratives: The case for collaborative leadership” (2024) The Humanitarian Leader, 6(1), p. Working paper 043, March, 2024. doi:10.21153/thl2023art1959.