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Humanitarian Action: Human Rights, Refugees, and Crisis Response

“The Geneva Program provided me with an unique insight into the humanitarian community that I couldn't get from anywhere else. The opportunity to network with expert professionals and the experience of living in Geneva made for the experience of a lifetime.”—Aden Hamza, University of Western Ontario


The Humanitarian Action Fellows track offers a unique opportunity to learn firsthand how humanitarian assistance is formulated and implemented.  The program focuses on pressing humanitarian issues, including international migration, refugees and resettlement, and the rights of vulnerable children.  Fellows selected for this program gain both academic and experiential perspectives on how intergovernmental institutions, public-private partnerships and nongovernmental organizations shape humanitarian action policy.

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  • Geneva Program students take advantage of the beauty of the area.

    Discussing Policy Issues, Enjoying Geneva

    Humanitarian Action Fellows took a break outside with their professor during their intensive course week. In addition to gaining a solid policy foundation, the beauty of Geneva offers a wonderful summer experience.

The program combines internships at humanitarian action stakeholder organizations in Geneva, with an intensive course on humanitarian action issues. It is open to graduate students attending schools of public administration, education and leadership, public policy, human rights and more. We also accept a limited number of exceptional undergraduate students.

Program Structure

The Humanitarian Action track includes a placement in a humanitarian action policy internship (12 weeks preferred, shorter internships 10-12 weeks available), and the required five-day intensive course. Fellows belong to a cohort of other students from a diverse range of backgrounds. To apply to be a Humanitarian Action Fellow with the Duke Program on Global Policy and Governance, please refer to the admissions procedure.

"Thanks to Professor Hepburn and the Humanitarian Action course week, I connected with professionals from MSF, Oxfam, UNHCR, IRC – the list goes on. Further, my internship with the UN Development Programme allowed me to meet diplomats at conferences and travel to Costa Rica to attend an international convention. In short, the Duke Program made for an amazing experience. "—Daniel Grafton, University of Washington

About the Policy Internship

All Humanitarian Action Fellows work in a Geneva-based policy internship, where they gain useful experience contributing to program and policy-making in humanitarian action, human rights, and human security. Some Fellows help to prepare policy briefings and meetings; others conduct gap-filling research. From building databases and interviewing stakeholders to synthesizing literature and putting together presentations, fellows contribute to the work of their placement sites.

In the past, students have interned at a wide range of NGOs and intergovernmental organizations, including:

  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • International Organization for Migration (IOM)
  • International Labour Organization (ILO)
  • UN Development Programme (UNDP)

About the Course

The course will take place from June 26 - June 30, 2017. For participants, this means taking a break from the internship to participate in the course.

The course provides participants with a thorough introduction to international humanitarian assistance, human rights, and human security. It explores how the international community can better respond to humanitarian crises such as the influx of refugees in Europe, HIV-AIDS in Africa, or ongoing civil conflict in countries such as Sudan. It examines the importance of both cooperation and collaboration on a global scale by organizations such as the International Red Cross, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), and development organizations. See a sample course syllabus.

During the course week, the program also facilitates additional evening events, such as a program reception, mentorship dinners, and networking events.

“The Humanitarian Action course was the best class imaginable.” —Melissa Bingham, Loma Linda University

About the Faculty Instructor

The course is led by Amy E. Hepburn (Duke MPP'01), a policy professional who has researched, published, and programmed extensively on issues affecting children in complex humanitarian emergencies,  including armed conflict and HIV/AIDS in the Balkans, Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Republic of Georgia. Her clients include international NGOs, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees in Geneva, the United States Department of State, and the United States Agency for International Development.

Her research and programming interests include the education and holistic care of children in complex humanitarian emergencies-- particularly those orphaned by HIV/AIDS in eastern and southern Africa and/or affected by armed conflict. Hepburn co-directed the Duke University Graduate Program on Global Governance and Policy in Geneva, Switzerland from 2001-2005. She currently teaches international humanitarian law and policy as part of the Program.

Hepburn is a Senior Research Fellow in the Duke University, Health Inequalities Program and is an adjunct faculty member at The George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs where she teaches on the care of children in complex humanitarian emergencies. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees with honors from Duke University. She currently resides in Washington, D.C. with her husband and four children.