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Decolonizing Humanitarian Action: Challenges and Dilemmas

This course will not be offered in 2024.



There is a recognition that the global humanitarian system is built on a colonial structure resulting in widespread injustices shown so starkly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This unique course will explore the challenges and dilemmas of decolonizing humanitarian action by looking at three key issues confronting humanitarian action today: forced migration, climate crisis, and access to medicines. Through a combination of inspiring lectures and interactive case studies, the course will explore emerging ethical dilemmas and current controversies around these issues. Building a bridge between theory and practice, this course will enable participants to tackle the challenges within their own spheres of influence.


Rachel Kiddell-Monroe, LL.M,
Professor of Practice, Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University;
International Board Director, Médecins Sans Frontières;
Founder and General Director, See Change Initiative

Teresa Bonyo, M.D/MPH
Medical Doctor and Public Health Specialist;
National Medical Officer, IOM - UN Migration Agency
Board of Directors, Médecins Sans Frontières


Carol Devine – Médecins Sans Frontières
Els Toreele – UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose (IIPP)
Felipe Carvalho – MSF
German Casas – MSF
James Orbinski – Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, York University
Jason Nickerson – MSF
Jessica Farber – SeeChange Initiative
María Micaela Jimenez Montejo
Matthew Hunt – School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, McGill University
Megan Corbett-Thompson – See Change Initiative
Merith Basey – UAEM North America
Rachel Kiddell-Monroe – McGill University
Renata Reis- MSF
Teresa Bonyo – MSF
Yves Abanda – Symbiosyn
Zolelwa Sifumba – KwaZulu Natal Department of Health


People around the world are facing profound challenges and are living in increasingly fragile contexts. These changing dynamics are forcing us to reflect on how humanitarian assistance is conceptualized and delivered to benefit vulnerable and marginalized populations. There is a recognition that the global health system is built on a colonial structure resulting in widespread injustices shown so starkly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Structural racism is a pillar of the colonial system. Today, over 65 million people have been forced to leave their homes because of conflict, violence, climate change, or extreme poverty. They are increasingly demonized by society. At the same time, inequitable access to affordable medicines and diagnostics, and significant health impacts of accelerating climate change continue to challenge our ability to deliver meaningful humanitarian assistance. This course aims to provoke reflection and debate on these trends through the lens of decolonizing humanitarian action. With input from thought leaders and community advocates from the humanitarian, environmental, and human rights field, participants will use practical examples and case studies to explore the political, human, and ethical dimensions of these three global realities.


The course will allow participants to develop skills in:

  • Reflecting critically on contemporary humanitarian action
  • Identifying key ethical dilemmas facing humanitarian practitioners and policy makers
  • Debating humanitarian issues
  • Advocating for meaningful change at grassroots and policy levels
  • Understanding how to decolonize their own practices

The course will offer the opportunity to network with thought leaders and other participants.


This course will appeal to a wide range of participants from different countries including:

  • Policy makers and ministry officials
  • Researchers, academics and students from all disciplines who are interested in humanitarian issues (law, medicine, ethics, global health, political science, international development and more).
  • Mid-career humanitarian workers, civil society and advocacy groups.

Participants from LMICs and indigenous communities are encouraged to apply.




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