How to Be a Humanitarian, Part 4

4 December 2020

Did you know there is an ethical code that humanitarians follow? Humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence are shared values that nonprofit aid organizations around the world embrace. As individuals within our communities, we can also keep these values as we look at ways to help one another.


When we are “independent” in providing humanitarian assistance, it means decisions about helping those in need are made independent of other objectives. Humanitarian aid is given with no strings attached, and decisions about where and how to give aid are not inappropriately influenced by military, government, or economic forces. In addition, Latter-day Saint Charities seeks to support communities and individuals in becoming self-reliant. We believe that effective humanitarian assistance provides a path for communities to build resources and infrastructures that will allow them to sustain their own needs and ultimately enable them to help and strengthen others.

As humanitarians, we maintain and promote independence when we:

  • Help those in need without inappropriate influence from outside objectives.
  • Strengthen communities by fostering independence rather than dependence on external assistance.
  • Support individuals in becoming self-reliant so that they may fully exercise their agency.

Independent of political, economic, or military objectives

When working with governments and other organizations in the humanitarian settings, we are careful to apply a consistent criteria when selecting projects. As humanitarians, our role is to seek out those in need and offer assistance in alignment with our organization’s global strategy and principles. To make certain that we are making the right decisions for the right reasons, we:

  • Vet humanitarian projects and partners against our Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning framework.
  • Seek out partners whose goals and track record are a good match for our organization.

The principles of humanity and impartiality provide the moral foundation for our work. The principles of neutrality and independence create a credible framework for navigating the complex landscape of providing relief to those in need.

Strengthen communities by fostering independence rather than dependence

During His mortal ministry, Jesus honored people’s agency and asked them what they wanted and needed. For example, when he met two blind men by the wayside, he did not simply act; he first asked what they would have him do to help them.1 Working with communities to design solutions for their problems is key to lasting success. After Typhoon Haiyan had devastated communities in the Philippines, Latter-day Saint Charities supported projects that helped Filipinos build houses for themselves and nine other families. This pattern of helping individuals strengthen themselves and their communities is central to our beliefs and guides our engagement in humanitarian work. As we serve within communities, we can be a catalyst for their success when we:

  • Avoid taking over. Involve communities and individuals in designing solutions for the problems they wish to solve.
  • Empower local community members to oversee, implement, and maintain the projects in their own community.
  • View those we are assisting as peers in the work and seek out their advice.

While we look first to relieve suffering, our long-term goal is to promote strong and resilient families and communities that can thrive without outside intervention.

Support individuals in becoming self-reliant and exercising their agency

Self-reliance empowers us to act rather than be acted upon.2 Those in need of humanitarian assistance often find themselves caught between forces in conflict. When people plan and prepare for challenges, no matter how those preparations may feel limited by circumstances beyond their control, that preparation can empower them to make choices for their future. In providing assistance, we work to “lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.”3 We enable others to exercise their agency when we:

  • Work with individuals to identify solutions that provide both immediate assistance and clear steps toward increased self-reliance.
  • Engage with individuals as their peer and equal.
  • Recognize and celebrate every small success!

We may sometimes feel like we are helping someone with the same issue over and over. But if you look closely, you may see that rather than “going in circles,” you are actually climbing a circular staircase. Each time you come back to the same issue, look for evidence of the smallest step toward greater self-reliance, and then celebrate and learn from that success. Supporting others on the path towards greater self-reliance helps give choices back to people who may be coming from situations where they felt powerless and voiceless.

The principle of independence teaches us to do the right thing for the right reason and to ensure that the help we give to others strengthens their own ability to oversee their future. As humanitarians, we act with independence when we:

  • Make decisions regarding humanitarian projects without being inappropriately influenced by outside forces.
  • Support solutions that promote long-term, community-owned success.
  • Enable those we help to become self-reliant and own their future.