Eight people

Most well-known North American newscasts and news magazine shows took a short break earlier today (Sunday, 7 April) to discuss the breaking news that famous interview journalist and 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace had just passed away. While of course it would be hard to make the case the Mr. Wallace was ‘the most important’ or ‘most influential’ television journalist of his time, there is no hiding from the fact that he was hugely important in the field of journalism and hugely influential in the development of mass media news coverage as we know it today. Over the past thirty years the name “Mike Wallace” has become a household one, known by people all over the world and from all walks of life.

In other news related news, some of you may have noticed the other day that Matt Lauer has decided to re-up a multi-year contract with the Today Show.  This announcement laid to rest the fears of many (including my wife), amidst speculation on and offline that Mr. Lauer might actually leave and be replaced by Ryan Seacrest (!). In some ways, like Mike Wallace, Matt Lauer is a household name in North America and – regardless of how you feel about him personally, about MSNBC, or about television news magazine journalism, you must admit – a force to be acknowledged, if not reckoned with, in the industry.

This all got me thinking: Who are the forces to be reckoned with in the Aid Industry? Who are the names we need to know? The general public tend to know us based on our marketing or based on (typically) mid- to low-level comms staffers who write press releases and do interviews on television following large disasters. But there’s no real light being shined on those who are wielding the power, making the decisions which affect industry trends, or generally moving the big pieces around. As well, the growing array of graduate degree programs in internal development and humanitarian action (see here, among other places) tend to focus on technical things, like how to do assessments or implement proper WASH, or general theories like ‘Do No Harm’ and issues like ‘involvement of the global south.’ But there is similarly little education about the nuts and bolts of how the Aid Industrial Complex actually works.

So, for the sake of public good, I’d like to start this discussion off with a list of eight Aid Industry names you need to know, whether you’re a crusty old aid worker, a bright-eyed hopeful, a professor, a donor, a watchdog or a pundit. Obviously these are the not the only people in the whole industry who matter. I’m not even saying they matter most. But if you’re involved in the aid world or follow it closely, these people (listed alphabetically) affect your lives:

Ban Ki-moonSecretary General  of the United Nations. Like it or not, there is no organization which wields more influence in the world of international humanitarian aid and development than the United Nations, and this man sits at the helm.

Valerie Amos – Undersecretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator. It’s a long title. In common English aidspeak, Ms. Amos is head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and leader of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). If there’s a disaster with a response by the international community (NGOs, UN Agencies, high-school students on spring break…), Ms. Amos is involved. If you’ve attended (or blown off) a coordination meeting, Ms. Amos has affected your life.

Ertharin Cousin Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Ms. Cousin replaces Josette Sheeran who held the position since 2007 (and inspired one of the more amusing satirical twitter feeds in the aid blogosphere). By most any measure, WFP is the largest humanitarian organization. Period. And Ms. Cousin is its executive director.

Jan EgelandHuman Rights Watch Deputy General Director and Europe Director. Also formerly the United Nationa Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. Mr. Egeland has a truly illustrious history in high echelons of the aid industry, academic scholarships and prizes, and direct influential involvement in a number of high-level peace processes over the past two decades. If you have interest or involvement in a conflict or post-conflict setting, Jan Egeland has an influence on your world.

Rajiv ShahAdministrator (head) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Prior to USAID, Dr. Shah held several Director-level positions during seven years spent at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. USAID is by some margin the largest single donor to international relief and development globally. Regardless of whether you see this as good or not good, USAID, to a very large extent determines the global development agenda and as effective CEO, Dr. Shah is front and center to that agenda-shaping conversation. Even if your organization receives no USAID funding whatsoever, Dr. Shah’s opinions and policies affect your work in the aid sector.

Barbara Stocking – Vice Chair of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR)  and the Chief Executive of Oxfam GB. Few people, especially outside of the UN system, can match the level of influence on the humanitarian world currently exercised by Ms. Stocking.

Nicholas Stockton – Variously in senior positions in Oxfam, ODI, ALNAP, and HAP (I don’t even know where he works now… I’m sure someone will enlighten me in the comments thread), Mr. Stockton is not a well-known name outside of the aid industry. However, few people are more prolific in writing and speaking out, in ways and on issues that change the industry for the better. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that if you pay attention to current aid world events, thinking, and trends, Nicholas Stockton has influenced your thinking.

Peter WalkerDirector of the Feinstein International Center; Rosenberg Professor of Nutrition and Human Security. Professor Walker is one of a very few full-time academics who comes from a practical, NGO, field-based background: Unlike the vast majority of academic aid pundits with snappy book titles and speaking tours, Prof. Walker knows from experience what it’s like to run a relief operation. He is also one of the industry’s leading thinkers and proponents of making aid a profession, and in that context is also a regular participant and contributor in forums like ALNAP, HAP, and ELHRA. To the extent that professionalizing the aid sector is an eventual given (expanded discussion here), Peter Walker is among the most influential individuals in shaping what that will all look like.