Innovation, Partnership, and the Future of Humanitarian Response: Lessons from Ahlan Simsim

April 30, 2024


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How do we tackle boundary-blurring, intergenerational crises? The international community has long divided this work between “humanitarian” and “development” sectors, but those responsible for humanitarian response are beginning to recognize the need to do business differently. This means taking steps to move forward with localization and human-centered approaches closely aligned with calls for greater accountability to crisis-affected populations. While these emerging examples are inspiring, they aren’t enough to offset rising costs, nor do they tackle the comparative lack of know-how on how to materialize development outcomes that take longer to achieve in difficult environments.It was in this context that the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Sesame Workshop came together in 2016 to launch Ahlan Simsim, a revolutionary initiative meant to support and scale up approaches, materials, and content in early childhood development (ECD) for children and families impacted by conflict, crisis, and displacement.

Ahlan Simsim provides a unique model that should be closely examined. Both in that ECD is a cross-cutting issue that puts women and children at the center–as encouraged by OCHA’s 2023-2026 Strategic Plan– as well as the multi-year, flexible funding and strong partnership approach baked into its structure from the onset. As the program developed, Ahlan Simsim succeeded in putting systems strengthening and contextual, politically supported priorities at the core of its operations.

At HNPW, IRC and Sesame Workshop will explore these learnings, including lessons that can be replicated by humanitarian response actors. We will focus on how Ahlan Simsim programming was integrated within national systems in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria for locally driven solutions to context-specific problems. The following Ministry and humanitarian response partners will reflect on how we achieved the cumulative success of reaching 3 million children and families in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria with direct services, and 27 million across the Middle East and North Africa through multimedia, working with 100+ partners.

Moderated Chantale Kallas, Senior Scaling and System Specialist, IRC, and panelists will include:

  • MohammedMeqdadi,Secretary General of the National Council for Family Affairs (NCFA), Jordan
  • Rita Karam,Secretary General of the Higher Council for Childhood (HCC), Lebanon
  • Layla Hasso,Accountability to Affected people/ communication and community engagement Advisor, OCHA, Gaziantep
  • Joe Elias, Senior Director, Program Management, International Social Impact, Sesame Workshop

We believe our learnings have the potential to transform ways of working across the humanitarian sector, and we hope to share more on the approach, models, and tools that can result in improving the lives of families affected by conflict and crisis, including displaced populations and their host communities across the Middle East and the world.

Dr. Mohammed Meqdady is currently the Secretary General of the National Council for Family Affairs (NCFA),MeqdadyHolds a PHD in Sociology/Organizational Sociology.Meqdadyhas over 22 years of experience in formulating and conducting National Polices and Strategies in the field of human and social development and family affairs. In addition, to his skills in building constructive relationships with all relevant actors and ministers to ensure full coordination and advocacy for various Family Protection issues, Dr.MeqdadyParticipated in many National Documents in the field of Family and Children: the National Framework for Family Protection from Violence, the National Strategy for Protection from Family Violence, the Matrix of National Priorities for Family Protection, Gender-Based Violence and Child Protection, the Family Protection Law , the Child Right Law, Advisor to the Arab Women Organization and the League of Arab States, Head of the National Team To Protect the Family fromViolence, Founder and Head of the National Team for Early Childhood Development, member of the Committee for Preparing Economic Modernization Vision and member of the Ministerial Committee for Women#&39;s Empowerment, member of the Scientific Committee of the King Abdulaziz Prize for Scientific Research in Childhood and Development Issues in the Arab World, part-time lecturer at the Arab Open University for the year 2016.

Ms. Rita Karam has over 24 years of experience in the field of childhood and child rights. She possesses expertise in training, policy analysis, qualitative and quantitative research methods, as well as data management. Rita holds a Master#&39;s degree in Social Policiesand an Executive Master#&39;s in Child Rights from the Lebanese University, along with a diploma in International Child and Youth Care and Development from the University of Victoria in Canada. Currently, she serves as the Secretary-General of the Higher Council for Childhood at the Ministry of Social Affairs in Lebanon. In this capacity, she oversees project management and excels in child protection against all forms of violence across various domains. Rita advocates for children#&39;s rights in collaboration with relevant ministries and non-governmental organizations.

Ms. Layla Hasso has nine years of experience in advocacy, communication, community engagement, and media management in cross-border response for north-west Syria. As a former member of the NGO advocacy forum group and the HLG Women’s Advisory Group working group, she has extensive experience in creating spaces for children, women, and vulnerable groups in local communities to have a voice in influencing decision and policymakers. Layla currently works as an Accountability to Affected People Advisor to the Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator. “I am strongly committed to bringing the voice of children and women to the attention of decision makers while upholding the highest standards of work and humanitarian principles. Throughout my work on humanitarian aid, I have been able to fulfill that vision.”Beforethis, her passion for children#&39;s and women#&39;s rights during the protracted crisis in her country was evident in her work atHurrasNetwork. She led advocacy for children’s rights in emergency response for over five years. As an advocacy and communication manager, she worked with multiple stakeholders to lead many campaigns about child protection andeducation; the most recent one is about maternity leave for female teachers in northwestSyria.Laylais a graduate of the Fine Arts University Visual Communication Department. She speaks Arabic and English.

Mr. Joseph Elias, Senior Director in International Social Impact at Sesame Workshop, has over two decades of experience in project and systems design and management with a focus on supporting children, women, refugees, and vulnerable at-risk populations. In his current role on Ahlan Simsim, he is serving and supporting children and families in crisis settings in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. Joe is a humanitarian, public health, and early childhood education program professional with experience, knowledge, and skills in systems, program strategy, and large-scale projects. Joe holds a Master of Public Health and is certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP). Prior to joining Sesame Workshop, Joe was privileged to have worked in and for communities in sub-Saharan Africa, Melanesia, Middle East and North Africa, Australia, Western Europe, and North America. His experiences include working on a $250 million CDC project, the largest global public health conference, a community investment fund for refugee women, and a health-promoting schools initiative. Joe is the child of Lebanese refugee immigrants, grew up in Australia, and now lives in New York, where he and his partner are joyfully learning from their hilarious dog Buddy.