Background and perspectives

Predictions suggest that seventy per cent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050. If these forecasts are accurate, communities, governments and civil society organisations – including international development and humanitarian agencies such as Save the Children – will need to prepare for these profound changes and develop new approaches and frameworks that anticipate and respond to an increasingly uncertain and complex set of social, political and economic issues.

And yet, while the forecast might seem plausible, the assumptions underlying the urban proposition are worth revisiting. In an operational setting, the equally as poignant challenge is the extent to which testing urban assumptions could result in alternative ways to deal with emerging pressures and result in entirely new planning approaches for building resilience and dealing with the vulnerable.

It is in this context that SCI’s proposed Humanitarian Affairs Unit needs to be considered. It is all too easy for a flood of concern to be focused on a new threat such as urbanisation without putting such challenges into strategic perspective.


A major opportunity to heighten the capacity of the proposed SCI Humanitarian Affairs Unit for dealing with emerging and potential urban challenges could arise from looking at alternative operational perspectives. This project therefore aims to look at the interface between a major operational issue for Save the Children, namely, urban challenges, and the ways that the structure and resources of Save the Children could develop futures-oriented policies and provide possible strategies and operational plans for the consideration and use of SC members.

As specific activities and outputs, HFP will:

  • identify from the SC membership a consultative group of “urban experts” to work with the proposed model Humanitarian Affairs Unit team, as well as other resources from  across the SC membership to support the HAU
  • conduct an inception workshop with the model HAU team, SC consultative group“urban experts”, HFP staff, selected external experts on urban challenges and resilience, facilitated by SAMI consulting to explore the mental models SC uses in considering urban challenges, resilience, and strategy formulation, and to challenge SC itself to break the mould of its thinking on these issues in order to consider its urban and resilience strategies and the potential role of the Humanitarian Affairs Unit  without prejudice
  • survey the sorts of urban challenges SC members felt that they faced, how they define urban challenges” and “resilience”,  identify the key and potential future drivers of these challenges, and collate these and their direct and indirect responses to such challenges, including present and possible future plans;
  • survey the literature and leading experts to determine how SC members’ concerns cohere with the perspectives and solutions of leaders in the field and with the aim of building a map of and links to  relevant academic, policy, and private institutions
  • survey SC members to determine the potential utility of the urban challenge initiative and its outcomes and how this might be incorporated into SC’s operations;
  • provide at the end of the project period an operational framework that identifies key urban challenges, possible alternative solutions and ways forward, with building resilience as a key component of these options;
  • in a separate report assess the implications of this approach for SCI for a Humanitarian Affairs Unit for anticipating future challenges that will involve SC members and the wider humanitarian community and determine resource and personnel requirements to develop a coherent functioning structure
  • A final project workshop to present both of the above mentioned reports with the model Humanitarian Affairs Unit team, SC “urban experts” consultant group, and HFP staff, to review both reports and the integration of their recommendations into SC strategy and operations

All publications for this project are currently for internal use within Save the Children International. If you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact Alice Obrecht