Quick Take: Where’s the elephant?

As part of the 2019 Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW), the SDG Lab and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations Office at Geneva organized an hour-long discussion on the humanitarian-development nexus, held on February 6.

Our session was titled “SDGs: the elephant in the room”. We selected this angle to be somewhat provocative and, at the same time, unpack a perception that the SDGs are irrelevant to humanitarian action or could challenge humanitarian space.


Somewhat to our surprise, most participants – some 60 people, including former and current humanitarian actors – said that they live the SDGs every day in their work. One participant stated that talking about a humanitarian-development divide is a “non-problem” and instead emphasis should be placed on achieving common SDG-related objectives across the humanitarian and development sectors.

Not satisfied with leaving the discussion there, we challenged participants further. After a few additional probing questions, a consensus quickly emerged that underscored the importance of context in assessing whether the SDG agenda could hamper humanitarian responses. For example, situations were shared that highlighted the necessity for a laser sharp humanitarian focus in conflict settings.

So, while the SDGs did not emerge as the “elephant in the room”, the session concluded with a sense of optimism that the humanitarian-development divide may not be so deep after all. What is now needed is to take such discussions down to the practitioner level to ensure humanitarian actors have opportunities to integrate the SDGs in their activities, adapted to local contexts.

Question AskerKali Taylor