by Helen Kennedy

As everyone’s inboxes and newsfeeds are flooded with announcements of cancellations and postponements of all things academic and otherwise, it is nice to have the opportunity to announce the start of something.

The Canadian Network on Humanitarian History and Carleton University’s Department of History have partnered with five Canadian NGOs to conduct historically grounded work relevant to each organization.  With matching funding provided by a MITACS Accelerate grant, Dr. Dominique Marshall and Helen Kennedy (PhD candidate) are aiming to demonstrate how micro-histories of individual organizations can be used to address global humanitarian challenges and effectively contribute to the future of humanitarian networks.

Our NGO partners – The Latin American Working Group, World University Service of Canada, the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, IMPACT, and Oxfam Quebec (in partnership with the Centre for Lebanese Studies’ Disability Hub) – each have unique challenges facing them and their networks in the coming years.  Whether it be a new (or renewed) mandate, the creation of new services, or an operational pivot away from active service and towards advocacy, each of our partners recognize that grounding their futures in their pasts will make their organizations strong and sustainable for years to come.

The coordination for this project has been in the works since early 2019 and it is exciting to see how the priorities of our partners have evolved even in that time.  It is even more exciting to be able to start planning, researching, and working closely with our partners.

Though this is an announcement about a beginning, I would be remiss if I did not reflect on how the current global health crisis will affect the timelines for this project.  Our NGO partners are resilient and working through how to continue their work in the face of the current realities facing us.  For some, the completion of this project relies on archival research and other methodologies that will be interrupted as we heed the advice of our national healthcare professionals.  For others, video conferencing and online resources will enable our work to continue almost unhindered.  We are in the process of connecting with our partners to re-think (where necessary) our work plan and establish new timelines and potentially altered deliverables that reflect our changed reality.

What has not changed, however, is our partners’ commitment to their work and their networks.  I would like to take this opportunity to provide a brief introduction to the organizations we will be working with and some broad comments on the specific projects we will be collaborating on.

The Latin American Working Group was a research and solidary organization that aimed to support Latin American social justice policies while educating Canadians on the socio-economic realities in Latin American in the second half of the 20th century.  As part of its activities, LAWG worked alongside other civil society organizations during the original NAFTA negotiations to agitate for considerations surrounding the social impact of economic decisions.  This project will examine archival material from key LAWG members from that era to create, among other things, a chronology of LAWG’s involvement in the original NAFTA negotiations.  As NAFTA-II is in the process of ratification, a reflection on the original NAFTA negotiations is timely.

The World University Service of Canada (WUSC) was initially a national chapter of the World University Service, an organization that grew out of concerns about the plight of European students in the wake of the First World War.  As the international organization celebrates its 100th anniversary, WUSC is looking to examine the evolution of the international movement and the rise of the Canadian chapter within that movement.  This reflective project with inform future histories of specific programs that WUSC has championed over its history as well as establishing a coherent understanding of the evolution of WUSC programming.

The Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan (MCoS) works with organizations and industry at municipal, provincial, and federal levels to educate on the benefits of a multicultural society and give agencies the tools to identify and combat systemic racism in all aspects of their work.  We will be working with MCoS to create historically-grounded policy papers and advocacy templates for their future work in implementing, among other things, the Saskatchewan Multiculturalism Act and increased engagement with community and industry leaders.

Formerly Partnership Africa Canada, IMPACT has been a civil society leader in combating the spread of conflict diamonds throughout the global commercial market.  As a founding member of the Kimberly Process, IMPACT is interested in creating a coherent, institutional understanding of the evolution of their experience with the Kimberly Process initiative.  This project will result in oral history interviews with key members of the IMPACT team who were involved in the Process.  The resultant report will inform future IMPACT initiatives both surrounding the Kimberly Process and their current work on transparency in the international gold market.

In partnership with Oxfam Quebec, the Centre for Lebanese Studies is undertaking to create a Disability Hub that brings together researchers and practitioners in the Middle East and North Africa to share best practices and on-going initiatives.  This project will assist in the establishment of the Hub as well as early research into the history of disability studies in the region and the implications for future work.

We are looking forward to seeing how these projects will grow and evolve over the next few months.