There is little continuity between who is considered to be in the humanitarian sector and who is on its periphery, who are “traditional” actors and who qualifies as a “new” actor. As a result, this study has constructed a lexicon that explains what is meant by the various terms used. Though it is not often recognized, there is and has long been a diverse group of actors who have played a role in providing humanitarian relief and assistance locally, nationally, and transnationally.

How does the humanitarian ecosystem work

The humanitarian ecosystem is composed of two categories or actors: the formal humanitarian sector and non-formal actors. Actors included in the formal humanitarian sector 2 are those for whom humanitarian work is their primary purpose, those that have had a role in shaping the institutions that govern and structure international humanitarian action, and finally, those that subscribe to traditional humanitarian principles. These actors include the United Nations (UN), international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and traditional donor governments such as those in the OECD-Development Assistance Committee.

What humanitarian action is demanded

Humanitarian action has consistently evolved, transforming what is entailed in humanitarian action and who humanitarian actors are. The legitimacy and efficacy of what we consider the formal humanitarian sector is eroding. In the past, when the formal humanitarian sector has been in crisis, unable to adequately respond to needs – in the aftermath of both World Wars, for instance, and, more recently, in the Biafra War and following the Rwandan genocide – new humanitarian actors have appeared or programmatic approaches have evolved. As is evidenced by the Syria crisis, the formal humanitarian sector is once again in such a period of crisis.

Humanitarian needs have escalated, the number of displaced people worldwide is higher than ever before, the effects of climate change are increasingly being felt, and conflict
is endemic in some parts of the world. It is both a challenge and an opportunity for humanitarian leaders to create a more inclusive and efficient humanitarian ecosystem that better reflects those within it and those it serves.

The global scenarios are the basis of the projected environment in which the humanitarian ecosystem could operate in 2030. These are constructed by analyzing the interactions of the uncertainties and main trends explored in the foresight base. Four global scenarios are explored in detail to define the environment in which the role of the humanitarian ecosystem will be grounded. Scenarios are a vehicle to frame the trends and uncertainties that can shape the future and present different sets of global dynamics for which actors in the humanitarian ecosystem can prepare to manage.