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AidEx 2023 Report: Top 10 Observations from the Humanitarian Aid Sector

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by Henrik Rydén
COO and Co-founder of Impactpool

Each year, over 3,000 representatives from the humanitarian aid and development community from over 65 countries attend an AidEx event. 

Participants come from UN Agencies, the EU, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, local and international NGOs, government, and the private sector.

Last week, I visited an AidEx event. This time, it was hosted in Geneva at the Palexpo, a well-organized event. Below, I share ten observations from the exhibition. 

Next year, I hope to be invited back to share Impactpool's Talent Suit. A revolutionizing software suite using the latest AI technology that will completely change what international organizations believe is possible in recruiting and managing rosters/pools. 


Photo from the session on Blended finance facilitated by Ben Constable Maxwell, Sustainable and Impact Investing at M&G Investments.


1. AidEx moved from Brussels to Geneve 

Aidex launched its first exhibition in Geneva, a logical venue given the number of humanitarian organizations in the Geneva area. The team behind AidEx must also have appreciated the new location, as the 2024 AidEx is already booked for Geneva.

2. Gender balance in the panels

The organizers did a great job of creating diverse panels. It's nice to attend an event with 50% men and 50% women on stage.

3. Denmark, Denmark, Denmark

Denmark is the world's eighth largest vendor to the United Nations, and they work strategically to keep that position. During AidEx, Denmark had the largest pavilion, promoting Danish companies. I have written about Denmark's national procurement strategy work in the past.

2. AidEx = armored vehicles?

This was my first AidEx, and one AidEx prejudice that I arrived with was that AidEx is the place to buy armoured vehicles. That rumour was not entirely off. At least three vendors exhibiting had an armoured SUV parked in their booth. 

As a visitor not interested in armoured vehicles, I would say that my main takeaway from the visit was the sessions provided in the discussion rooms and the workshops.

5. On the agenda for the past 35 years

The localization agenda is an ongoing (for the past 35 years) movement to shift power and resources from international to local actors in crisis-affected countries. It dates back to the 1990s when shortcomings in the humanitarian system were seen as slow, inefficient, and out of touch with the needs of local communities.

The agenda gained new momentum in the early 2000s when several international humanitarian organizations signed up to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. The Paris Declaration committed donors to harmonizing their aid practices and aligning their aid with the priorities of developing countries.

The localization agenda has been on the agenda for 35 years and still gains huge space at AidEx.

6. Blended Finance - the sector's new buzzword

"Blended finance models" is the new financing buzzword. The fact that Humanitarian organizations face a continuous funding crisis is not new. “Blend” refers to strategically using various funding instruments to achieve social and environmental impact, including public, private, and philanthropic capital. 

I visited an excellent session facilitated by Ben Constable Maxwell, Sustainable and Impact Investing at M&G Investments. 

A good discussion covering different aspects and challenges of introducing blended finance models. I left the room with the question of whether this sector is mature enough to bring in commercial capital; I don’t think so. For those of you who are Interested in this topic, read this impactpool article.

7. AI reporting - the same old tired software companies took the stage 

The use of AI to provide timely and accurate reporting was another main topic at the event. Time only allowed me to attend one AI reporting session, and regrettably, that session didn’t touch upon anything exciting or even mention the potential of using generative AI. 

Unfortunately, the whole AideEx program was filled with very few new innovative company brands. It feels like it is the same tired software providers that haven't delivered appropriate solutions for the humanitarian sector for the past 50 years that now will play a miss-matching AI card.

It surprised me that generative AI was not mentioned in any sessions I visited. I hope for more exciting tech companies next year. Homework for the exhibition organizer. 

8. Green procurement

One other main topic of the event was inclusive, sustainable, and green procurement. Several sessions were held on this topic.

I am curious to see in what direction these discussions will take us. So far, I can’t see so much of an influence of this agenda in the procurement notices published. Still, everything is about volume and price.

9. Duty of Care and Safeguarding 

During AidEx one whole presentation room was dedicated to Duty of Care, and I listened to a great panel facilitated by James Vesey (COO at CTG).

One main take-out from the session was Elisabeth Wright (Interpol) sharing their database on felony cases available for humanitarian organizations while undertaking background checks. 

The whole Duty of Care and safeguarding topic goes back to the Oxfam safeguarding crisis in 2018, where Oxfam staff faced several allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in Haiti, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

The allegations included the use of sex workers by Oxfam staff, the exchange of sex for aid, and the abuse of children. Oxfam's response was widely criticized; they were accused of covering up the allegations, failing to take appropriate action against staff members involved, and not doing enough to protect the people it was supposed to be helping. 

This terrible event has created a new professional career journey in the humanitarian world never to let this happen again.

10. Talent management in Excel is still standard in humanitarian organizations

One exciting panel on the topic of cybersecurity and breaches included Cedric Nabe (Deloitte), Alexandru Lazar (CyberPeace Institute), and Jennifer Woodard (Co-Founder and CEO, Insikt AI); they provided a thorough picture of different cybersecurity risks both for organizations at large and for staff on the ground.

I learned about the new Swiss Data Protection Act that hopefully will end using Excel sheets as a humanitarian organization’s Roster/Pool management tool.

With this new law in place, the individual creator of the Excel sheet is solely responsible for data breaches, a costly risk that hopefully will make respective HR officers stay away. 

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