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About Nexus

February 2019
-and how a concept is developed without a clear definition

For some years now the concept of Nexus between development and humanitarian work is increasingly discussed. While international actors in the beginning (starting at the Grand Bargain) talked about Nexus to reduce the barriers between development and humanitarian actors (the double nexus), the UN includes since 2016 “sustainable peace” into the discussion and describes Nexus as the interlinkages between development, humanitarian response, and peace (the triple nexus). Nexus is at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 branded as nothing less than “the New Way of Working”. But what is actually new in the discussion about Nexus?

The rationale for the new focus on Nexus is that the volume of humanitarian crisis and the length of humanitarian assistance have increased dramatically over the past years. This situation challenges the traditional way of separating the humanitarian aid as “short term” from the long-term development work. At the same time the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an opportunity to work as a framework of reference for both, the humanitarian and the development actors, with the overall vision of leaving no one behind.


Meaning and Definitions

Following the Agenda 2030, national governments like Denmark adopted their international policies to include both, the development and the humanitarian aid in one strategy. However, it looks like that Nexus on policy level mainly means working towards collective outcomes. And while Nexus now is on everyone’s lips, and despite of lots of briefing papers, workshops and discussions, it is still unclear how the concept of Nexus is defined, other than being the area between development and humanitarian aid.

In practice, some define Nexus as happening when you have to change from development to an humanitarian intervention due to an acute crisis; for others Nexus occurs when thinking both silos together from the very beginning; some understand Nexus as the gap between development and humanitarian response others as an overlap; the words connection and linkage also appear in the discussion. But the phrase Nexus is also used in a lot of different contexts (e.g. the climate change – poverty nexus).


Can all these aspects bring us closer to a definition of Nexus?

So far the lack of a clear definition turns out to be a challenge whenever trying to engage in the discussion. I hear people referring to different concepts when discussing Nexus.

Following the Humanitarian Agenda

Following the Nexus discussion in Denmark, it appears when looking at the expressions and concepts applied, that the drivers behind the discussion initiate from the humanitarian actors. It appears to be the humanitarian paradigm applied in the context of development. For instance when talking about the needs of the vulnerable people, it implies a humanitarian mind set of vulnerability to a risk, while a rights based NGO would have talked about the disadvantaged people. Could the nexus discussion also mean that we when talking about protection of specific vulnerable groups also talk about empowering disadvantaged people to know and claim their right? And does Nexus then mean to shift between mindsets or to create coherence between mindsets?

Many NGOs and people I know in development have always planned for holistic interventions, taking a starting point in the specific (sometimes fragile) context. Implementers seem to me to have practiced nexus long before it was called the new way of working. Isn’t Nexus the obvious approach when working in fragile contexts, and with crisis affected people or communities? What is it actually adding to “the old way of working”?


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