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Recap – Humanitarian Development Origins and Interventions in the Global South

Recap – Humanitarian Development Origins and Interventions in the Global South


Published on February 9, 2024

Agnieszka Sobocinska Event poster

On Wednesday, November 16, 2023, the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research welcomed Dr. Agnieszka Sobocinska (King’s College London) to discuss the themes from her most recent book, Saving the World? Western volunteers and the rise of the Humanitarian-Development Complex (Cambridge University Press, 2021) to a group of over 30 seminar attendees including global health undergraduate students.

Dr. Sobocinska opened the seminar with a historical overview of the humanitarian-development complex, a nexus of governments, NGOs, private corporations and public opinion that encouraged continuous and accelerating intervention in the Global South. Tens of thousands of radio and TV programs covered the endeavors of volunteer nurses, creating a positive narrative of humanitarian missions abroad while concealing the sentiments of the host country. The success of media campaigns, launched by volunteer agencies, served to publicize and glamourize the “good deeds” of volunteers abroad; and intervention from various NGOs such as the UK Voluntary Service Overseas and the US Peace Corps in the Global South accelerated between the late 1950s to 1960s. However, people living in countries with a colonial past in Asia and Africa often approached Western organizations who took an experimental approach to public health with caution. By the end of the 1970s, protests across the Global South called for the expulsion of Peace Corps volunteers. Dr. Sobocinska highlighted the power imbalance rooted in colonialism which has been reflected in other institutions such as the United Nation, World Bank, other NGOs such as Oxfam. She hopes that understanding historical context can reveal present-day public health and development inequalities.

Watch the seminar presentation below:

Connect with Agnieszka Sobocinska


Global Health & Humanitarianism



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