Humanitarianism’s New Business Model

In: Public Anthropologist
Michael BarnettUniversity Professor of International Affairs and Political Science, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA,

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There has been a transformation in the relationship between the corporate and humanitarian worlds over the last two decades, as the humanitarian sector has integrated a corporate mentality that would have once been viewed as downright deplorable by humanitarian actors. The search for a “new business model” is symbolic of the times. After situating the historical moment in terms of the relationship between humanitarianism and neoliberalism, the article examines three defining elements of this model: humanitarian finance; the role of corporations and markets for addressing life-threatening circumstances; and a business-oriented rationalization. These developments can constrain and possibly soil the legitimacy of humanitarianism. They might also alter humanitarianism’s practices and distort what humanitarian is. Such concerns raise the sociological question of: what function does humanitarianism play in the world order? Where does humanitarianism’s new business model fit?

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