Who We Are


The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) is a University-wide academic and research center in humanitarian crisis and leadership supported by Harvard University's Office of the Provost. HHI is based at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Department of Global Health and Population and is affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital Emergency Medicine Department. As an Inter-Faculty Initiative (IFI) at Harvard University, HHI collaborates closely with faculty and students throughout all Harvard Schools and Harvard Teaching Hospitals. 

HHI’s aim is to relieve human suffering in war and disaster by conducting interdisciplinary, practice-based research and education that can be used by scholars, policymakers, NGOs, and others to foster interdisciplinary collaboration in order to:
•    Improve the effectiveness of humanitarian strategies for relief, protection, and prevention;
•    Instill human rights principles and practices in these strategies; and
•    Educate and train the next generation of humanitarian leaders.


In 1999, Harvard University established a program on humanitarian crises and human rights at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights in response to growing interest in humanitarian response. By 2002, the demand for technical expertise and educational and training opportunities from NGO partners, professionals, and graduate students overwhelmed the capacity of the existing program. In 2005, Jennifer Leaning, MD, SMH and Michael VanRooyen, MD, MPH established the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative as a University-wide academic and research center to address issues of evidence-based humanitarian interest and became Co-Directors. In 2010, Michael VanRooyen continued as the Director of HHI. In 2011, HHI launched the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard, the educational arm of HHI and the first Humanitarian Academy of its kind.

Mission and Vision


The mission of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) is to create new knowledge and advance evidence-based leadership in disasters and humanitarian crisis.


Humanitarian aid will be based on scientific evidence and humanitarian principles and will preserve the human rights, autonomy and dignity of those affected by crisis.


Over the past decade, HHI has built and expanded a range of educational and research programs to promote understanding of humanitarian crisis as a unique contributor to global health problems. Humanitarian crises include recent wars and conflict-based disasters that involve civilian populations as indirect or deliberate targets, violate established norms of war, and impede global progress. Humanitarian crises also include large-scale natural disasters that lay bare issues of environmental degradation and disregard for local communities, and are often accompanied by disease and famine. Appropriate academic response to these crises requires developing methods to understand and describe these conflicts, designing means to evaluate and assess the impact of humanitarian interventions, and preparing the next generation of engaged and effective humanitarian actors.

Our Management Approach

As an academic and research interfaculty initiative, we apply a data-driven approach to management and strategy. HHI uses evidence-based frameworks to design, implement, and evaluate its strategy and incorporate quality improvement, project management, and monitoring and evaluation principles to internal operations and processes as well as international program, policy, and research activities. Decision-making and strategic planning efforts are guided by defined indicators and measurable outcomes that advance HHI’s outreach, accountability, efficiency, and transparency.

Our Strategy

Strategic Objectives

To achieve our mission, HHI builds on its unique expertise to confront the most pressing humanitarian challenges to advance evidence-based humanitarian action by:

  • Conducting high quality research and policy analysis
  • Convening critical conversations on humanitarian issues
  • Providing innovative education for students and professionals

Our Partners

HHI faculty, fellows, and students serve as a resource for technical, research, and training assistance to many humanitarian agencies, international institutions, and educational organizations. Below is a partial list of collaborators, past and present.

Collaborations with Harvard University and Affiliated Hospitals

As an Interfaculty Initiative, HHI collaborates with various academic centers and schools with Harvard University and with affiliated Hospitals.

Diversity, Inclusion, Equity & Belonging

The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is committed to improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable populations by assuring they have access to quality humanitarian aid. We seek to identify those at greatest risk of exploitation and assure their basic human right to safety, health and dignity. As HHI approaches its 15th year, we have decided to use this opportunity to look at issues of bias, both at home and abroad. In our own organization, we have further prioritized our understanding of, and commitment to diversity and inclusion; in our community, as a part of Harvard, we have collaborated with Enroot to support their mission.

Nearly two years ago, the World Humanitarian Summit consultation process documented the widespread call for a “new way of working” that would help bring diverse actors together across mandates, sectors and institutional boundaries to achieve collective outcomes for people affected by crises. We have all been seeking ways to address what some call the need to decolonize aid, to increase capacity and elevate the voices of affected communities. In our research we are increasing our understanding and awareness of these important issues by serving as a convener for safe discussions about how to improve the humanitarian sector’s approach to working with - and for - diverse communities.

Here at home, our news is full of stories about racial inequities, disparity in pay and blatant situations of bias, both implicit and explicit. HHI has been questioning its research role in relation to these issues based on the broad desire to create these new ways of working. We believe its past time to re-assess our commitment to diversity and inclusion and to engage our collaborators, partners and colleagues in assessing their organizations as well.

As the humanitarian arm of Harvard, HHI has a wide reach and global and local responsibility. Acknowledging this, we will model inclusive behavior for our students and colleagues and promote an agenda of diversity and non-discrimination with our donors, sponsors, and beneficiaries.

In an effort to better understand current priorities and undertake a preliminary exploration of understandings related to diversity and inclusion initiatives, HHI engaged in two activities between 2019 and 2020: a set of informational interviews and an interactive workshop. The goal of both activities was to collect initial input on key challenges humanitarian practitioners tasked with designing and implementing DEI efforts currently face, and to incorporate the preliminary findings in HHI’s future plans to promote diversity, and equity. Themes from the workshop and exploratory interviews may be used to inform future DEI efforts and discussions at HHI, and are being shared publicly as a resource for other institutions to review. You may access the summary here


Our Impact

To learn more about our impact, please read the latest HHI Annual Report.

Contact Us

Harvard Humanitarian Initiative

14 Story Street, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138