Sphere Board elects new leadership, sets future course

29 November 2013 | Sphere Project

Newly appointed Sphere Board Chair Unni Krishnan and Vice Chair Carsten Völz with Verónica Foubert, who worked in the Sphere office for 13 years.

Newly appointed Sphere Board Chair Unni Krishnan (left) and Vice Chair Carsten Völz (right) with Verónica Foubert (center), who worked in the Sphere office for 13 years.

A forward-looking meeting of the Sphere Project Board took place in Geneva mid-November. A post-2015 strategy for the Project, next steps in the process of harmonisation of humanitarian standards and some highlights of the work done by the Sphere office were among the matters discussed at the gathering.

2014 will be a year in which to consider the Sphere Project's future strategy, the Sphere Board decided at its 21-22 November semi-annual meeting in Geneva. Taking stock of the implementation of the Project's Strategy 2010-2015, new strategic orientations will be formulated to take into account major changes in the humanitarian sector in general and in the quality and accountability landscape in particular. The move is timely, as the humanitarian sector is launching an ambitious exercise to shape its agenda for the future in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit 2016.

The status of a process aimed at the harmonisation of humanitarian standards and led by the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP), People In Aid and the Sphere Project was the subject of a thorough appraisal. As a result, the Sphere Board decided to bring to an end its participation in this process. The Sphere Board remains committed to seeking greater coherence among humanitarian standards and will continue to explore new paths to achieve that goal. Lessons learnt and insights gathered throughout different stages of the harmonisation process will be taken into account.

The Sphere Board welcomed a report about the first face-to-face meeting of Sphere companion standards, which took place in Istanbul on 23 October. Companionship agreements aim to promote complementarity between standards that, through such agreements, become formally related and cross-reference each other. Since the first companionship was established five years ago, the group of Sphere companions has grown; it currently includes four sets of humanitarian standards that together cover a significant portion of humanitarian work. The Sphere Board encouraged further collaboration within this framework.

The staff of the Sphere office reported on progress made in several areas of work. With over 7,200 people registered since its launch eight months ago, the Sphere e-learning course is becoming a crucial tool for the community of Sphere practitioners. The demand for the Sphere Handbook continues to be strong, as is shown by sales figures and the number of downloads from the Sphere website (currently around 1,200 per month, all languages considered). Website visitors increased by more than 25% in 2013, while the Project's monthly newsletter now reaches nearly 20,000 people in the sector.

The Board also learnt about the efforts Sphere partners and focal points are currently deploying to support the quality and accountability work in the humanitarian response to Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines.

New Board Chair and Vice Chair

Unni Krishnan, Head of Disaster-Preparedness and Response at Plan International, has been appointed Chair of the Sphere Project Board. A medical doctor with over 20 years' experience in humanitarian and health action, Unni first joined the Sphere Board in 2005 and has been its Vice Chair since January 2012.

The Board also appointed Carsten Völz as Vice Chair. With two decades of experience in international humanitarian assistance and development cooperation, Carsten is the Humanitarian Director of Oxfam International. He joined the Sphere Board in 2012.

The Board expressed its gratitude to Erik Johnson, who concluded his term as Chair at this meeting. Several members of the Board commended Erik for the vision, persistence and caring attitude he demonstrated in carrying out his responsibility as Chair during a challenging period.

Board members and staff

Three new members were welcomed to the Board: Damaris Frick, Field Operations Officer of The Salvation Army International Emergency Services; Vikrant Mahajan, CEO of Sphere India; and Ian Ridley, Senior Director of Humanitarian Operations at World Vision International. They replaced Ray Brown, Nirmal Singh and Heather MacLeod, respectively, to all of whom the Board expressed gratitude for their faithful services.

The Board also conveyed its heartfelt thanks to John Damerell, the Sphere Project manager, and Verónica Foubert, responsible for Learning and Training. This Board meeting was the last in which both participated. John will leave his position in March 2014 after five years of service. Verónica's last day at work after 13 years of service coincided with the final day of the Board meeting.

Project manager John Damerell, who will leave his position in early 2014, inspects the customary Sphere farewell gift — a signed Handbook — presented to him by the outgoing Sphere Board Chair Erik Johnson.

Project manager John Damerell (right), who will leave his position in early 2014, inspects the customary Sphere farewell gift - a signed Handbook - presented to him by the outgoing Sphere Board Chair Erik Johnson (left).

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