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Course E102: Effective Leadership for Humanitarian Action and Social Change

5 November-16 December 2014 (E10214) | Register for this course (opens in new window)
Instructor: Gretchen Alther

Course brochure PDF (PDF)

Effective humanitarian response and development programming require effective leadership. But what does leadership look like in the context of the complex and challenging environments within which human rights, humanitarian and development workers operate? What leadership competencies are important, and how can they be developed? Leaders have the capacity for informed effective action. This requires an understanding of contexts and trends, the development of self-awareness, and the ability to model and encourage adaptation.

This e-learning course is geared toward emerging leaders of local, national, and international humanitarian and development organizations, as well as those with a general interest in the topic of leadership in these contexts. The course reviews leadership models and applies them to the specific challenges of humanitarian and field-based development work. Current analyses and case studies of leadership in the humanitarian and development sectors will be explored and discussed. Participants will be encouraged to reflect on their own leadership values and strengths, and develop a personal leadership action plan. Participants completing the course will have had the chance to explore models of leadership, compare those against individual values and competencies, and identify and begin to practice leadership skills.

This certificate course involves approximately 30 hours of reading, discussion, webinars, a written assignment and quizzes, and is offered over a six-week period. The course is based on a participatory, active learning approach, with an emphasis on critical reflection and peer-to-peer learning. Participants will complete the required readings, prepare interim and final assignments, and participate in group discussions. Case studies will be used to enable interactive learning and activities. Students who successfully complete the course will receive a Certificate of Participation. It is also possible to audit the course.

Course outline

Week 1: Models and significance of leadership
Week 2: Diagnosis and contextual analysis as critical skills
Week 3: The importance of relationships, networks, and communication
Week 4: Questions, decisions, and failure – the leader’s role
Week 5: Adaptive and invitational leadership
Week 6: Values, competencies, and the learning leader

About the instructor

Gretchen Alther is a development specialist focused on the recovery of marginalised communities after humanitarian crises. She has designed and managed programs to support disaster relief, conflict zone aid, health, and community resilience projects in Myanmar, Pakistan, Nepal, Guatemala, Gaza, Colombia, Haiti, Afghanistan, and the United States. Most recently, Ms. Alther has been a Fellow at the East West Center in Honolulu, where she explored the role of experiential education in developing effective leadership. She currently facilitates sustainability leadership programs around the world. From 2006-2012, Gretchen was Senior Associate for Rights in Humanitarian Crises at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Before joining the UUSC she worked for the Centre for Development and Population Activities, including as Acting Country Director in Nepal, and served as an advisor for the American Friends Service Committee's Peace and Economic Security Program. She holds a B.A. in Latin American Studies and Natural Resource Management from Texas A&M University, an MA in Sustainable International Development from the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and a postgraduate certificate from the East-West Center. She is also an instructor for HREA's Gender and Humanitarian Action and Human Rights in Humanitarian Action and Disaster Relief (Foundation Course) e-learning courses.

Who should apply

The course is intended for (potential) leaders of humanitarian and development agencies and civil society organizations who want to gain basic knowledge about leadership in humanitarian action and social change. Participants should have a good written command of English --the working language of the course-- and have high competence and comfort with computer and Internet use. HREA aims to ensure equal gender and geographical distribution across the selected participants. The maximum number of course participants is 25.


Tuition fee for participants: US$ 575; tuition for auditors: US$ 215. There are no scholarships or discounted tuition rates available for this course.

Payments can be made online with major credit cards (Discover, MasterCard, Visa), PayPal, bank transfer and money transfer (Western Union, MoneyGram). Bulk rates are available.


Register for this course (opens in new window). Registrations are accepted on a first-come-first-served basis. There is no registration deadline, but please be aware that courses generally fill up quickly!

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