Nazanin Zadeh-Cummings

Nazanin Zadeh-Cummings

Nazanin Zadeh-Cummings is a Lecturer at the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership at Deakin University. Her research interests are North Korea, civil society, human rights, and disaster response.

Location Deakin University, Burwood, Australia


  • Hi Wuyika,

    We don't currently operate any kind of alumni group for people who have completed the FutureLearn open course, though we do communicate with alumni from our other programmes such as the Master's of Humanitarian Assistance and the Graduate Certificate of Humanitarian Leadership. Interesting idea, though!

    For info on Australian NGOs, this may be...

  • Hi Mateja,

    Welcome! One benefit to being a latecomer is you have hundreds of interesting comments to read. I'm not familiar with the three C's, what are they?


  • Hi Kamallendhran,

    This FutureLearn course is the first course from the unit AHL701: The Humanitarian World. Students from our programmes need to complete all five courses of AHL701, as well as other units, to graduate. The number of units depends on the programme. You can find out more on our website,

  • Hi Clifford,

    Glad to hear you are interesting in joining one of our courses! You can find out more about the programmes we offer, application requirements, etc. on our website:

  • @KAMALLENDHRANG Great question. Attackers could believe that aid workers are not impartial and/or neutral - that their aid is favouring one group over another, or that they are acting on behalf of a foreign government.

  • Hi Carol,

    Good question. Working with local communities can help ensure that relief is culturally appropriate, but as you point out depending on the time frame and scale of the emergency sometimes agencies may feel compelled to send more 'generic' aid in the interest of time. However, an understanding of the local context can ensure that aid is indeed...

  • Good question, Nonso. There's no equivalent to the bar in the sense of an exam that individuals must pass to work as a humanitarian, but there are professional associations and qualifications. The Centre for Humanitarian Leadership offers such qualifications, including Master's and Graduate Certificate programmes. The Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance...

  • Hi Eve,

    I'm glad to hear you're interested in learning more about this sector! Taking this course is a great start.

    I'd recommend checking out Irin for journalism related to the humanitarian sector and humanitarian crises - they produce some excellent articles and video content.

    You can learn more about the different...

  • Hi Manuel,

    Good consideration of both risks and needs. Disasters can be compounded - aftershocks, more violence, violence on top of a disaster, etc. so it's important for humanitarians to keep in mind that the situations are dynamic and the risks can change, too.

  • @ValinaPeters I'm so sorry you had to go through these experiences. I think your story is a good reminder that disasters are catastrophic as a whole, but are also made up of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of individuals tragedies and traumas.

    What do you think are the main challenges in getting local populations involved in disaster preparedness in...

  • Hi Mohamed,

    I'm glad you enjoyed the course! I don't think we give certificate for completion of this two week course. We offer other programmes, like our Master's of Humanitarian Assistance and the Graduate Certificate of Humanitarian Leadership. You can find out more at the links above. I'm happy to answer questions about the programmes.


  • @FatmaIpek A very comprehensive and thoughtful answer! You bring up a lot of great points. If a humanitarian crisis results in a lack of functioning markets, cash won't do people a whole lot of good. There is an increasing use of cash-transfers in humanitarian contexts (though it is still a small percentage of total aid, about 5-6 percent), and studies show...

  • Hi Mohamed,

    Glad you have enjoyed the course! We also offer Master's and Graduate Certificate programmes. You can find out more on our website:

    I teach mainly on the MA programme, but I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about any of our programmes.

  • Hi Carol,

    Your question on prolonging the conflict is really salient. This has been dubbed the 'humanitarian paradox.'

    Let's consider an example of compromising on other principles - North Korea. There is clear humanitarian need. However, humanitarians do not have free choice of aid recipients, and must work with the government to choose project sites....

  • Hi Mohamed,

    Great question. I'll copy the response I gave to a similar query below:

    The Geneva Conventions make up the cornerstone of international humanitarian law, applicable in contexts of war. However, as we can see in multiple contexts around the world, international humanitarian law is not always respected. Humanitarian workers, both local and...

  • Hi Fatma,

    I'm so sorry I missed this! I just realised I didn't respond.

    Normally, this FutureLearn course is accompanied by 4 other courses (which are not free). This trimester we are only offering this free course. The five courses together form one of the core units for our postgraduate programmes - the Master's of Humanitarian Assistance, the...

  • Hi Kristin,

    You bring up a good point about the 'urgency' of a disaster. When sudden crisis or mass violence happens, people can suddenly feel called to act, but when there is long-term conflict or humanitarian need the world seems to notice less. Keeping donor interest in prolonged/forgotten crises is one of the challenges for humanitarian agencies.

  • @SophieWhitham @robinbanks Thanks to you both for sharing! It seems having that personal recommendation or connection can make a big difference. I think refocusing on the actual work that is done, and not repeating photos of starving children over and over, is both less exploitative but also more inspiring for individuals to actually know how their donations...

  • @EvePowell Hi Eve, thanks for sharing your story with us. I think this exemplifies the kind of survival instinct that can kick in during disasters. It's easy to look back later and wish you had done more, or for outsiders to question why people experiencing disasters don't do x, y, or z, but in the moments of chaos it can be difficult to act with the clarity...

  • Hi Sophie, I'd be interested to know why your family chose MSF. Was there something in particular about their organisation that drew you to them? I think it can be so interesting to see how people choose their 'favourite' organisations or causes!

  • Nazanin Zadeh-Cummings replied to [Learner left FutureLearn]

    Hi Robin, I'm still here! I think your point on everyone bringing something to the table no matter their background is really true. In this FutureLearn course, I think the discussion on experiencing disasters in the next step really exemplifies this. It's been fascinating to read everyone's thoughts and experiences from all over the world!

  • @FatmaIpek Hi Fatma,

    I'm curious to know your thoughts on this 'whacky' proposal from Duncan Green of Oxfam. He suggests having a way for individuals to donate directly to people living in poverty. Do you think this would be a good model?

  • @WuyikaKefiyen Thanks for your response, Wuyika. The Cameroonian conflict does not get much attention (or any attention at all!) in mainstream western media, so I think your contributions have been really useful for both myself and the other learners in the course to learn more about the conflict. I will certainly be following the situation. Radicalisation is...

  • @CarolKellas You might be interested in this blog post from Duncan Green of Oxfam. He suggests some 'whacky ideas' for the future of Oxfam, including one where donors can choose to donate directly to people living in poverty.

    As someone that has donated in the...

  • @SophieWhitham Interesting proposition, Sophie! Do you think the principle of independence could still be upheld, or is it worth overriding it for the sake of making things more centralised and efficient?

  • @EvePowell This article from Irin may be of interest. In general, Irin is a great source of humanitarian news:

  • @WuyikaKefiyen Thank you for sharing your experiences. I'm sorry you and those around you have to experience this. What is your outlook for the future? Do you see any pathways for an end or lessening of the conflict?

  • Hi Obinna,

    I could discuss the principles for hours - they're incredibly interesting! How do you think humanitarians should approach neutrality in contexts like the one in your region? Do you think they should speak out against the militia, attempt to negotiate with the militia to secure access, or not engage with either side?

  • Hi Annabel,

    That's great that you're considering a career in the humanitarian field! The Centre for Humanitarian Leadership at Deakin University offers a number of courses for people already working or looking to work in the sector. These include a Graduate Certificate of Humanitarian Leadership, Graduate Certificate of Humanitarian Health, and Master's of...

  • Lynda, you are absolutely right. Better than saying one type of actor is 'better' than the rest, we can encourage complementarity - what strengths and weaknesses does each type have, and how can we create a mosaic where they work together in a way that exploits their strengths?

  • Hi Annabel,

    The Geneva Conventions make up the cornerstone of international humanitarian law, applicable in contexts of war. However, as we can see in multiple contexts around the world, international humanitarian law is not always respected. Humanitarian workers, both local and international though especially local staff, can face grave security risks...

  • Hi Toni,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I'm sorry you (and so many others) experienced such a terrifying event. Psychological support can be a huge part in rebuilding life and strengthening personal resilience, but as you point out, in many cases it needs to be long term to have an effect. Do you think local organisations are better suited to...

  • Hi Fatma,

    Good point about negative impact - if your actions cause someone harm, it doesn't really matter to them if you're paid or not. You still have to be accountable to this you work with and for.

  • @ZdenkaMaresova Oops, sorry about that! The link seems to be broken now. The ICRC website also has the code of conduct on it, here:

  • Interesting to see that two of your fellow learners specified a dislike for the Oxfam India page - just goes to show how different people can have different opinions! Thanks for the UK link, too!

  • Interesting point about emotion, Ana. Do you (and other learners in this course) think emotions can interfere with delivering impartial aid?

  • Forecasting and preparing for disasters is a very important aspect of humanitarianism that can sometimes get forgotten. The concept of disaster risk reduction (DRR) looks at how to build capacity to best prepare for disasters so the impacts are minimised. Unfortunately it can be difficult to fund these activities, even though they are extremely important!

  • Great point, Lynda. How do you (and others) think the humanitarian system can identify or mold humanitarian workers to act with integrity?

  • Hi Anne,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your point about climate change is a sobering reminder that not all 'natural disasters' are seemingly random acts of nature. The CHL organised a symposium on humanitarian health earlier this week, where we were lucky enough to hear from researcher Patricia Schwerdtle. She urged the audience to think more about...

  • Hi Esther,

    Thanks for your input. This is a great reminder of the other civil society actors people can turn to in disasters, such as churches or other faith-based groups.

  • Hi Birte,

    Language can indeed be a challenge sometimes - as a native English speaker I am very pleased with the effort and level of English I see on this course. Especially in an environment like this, I think the most important thing is to try your best to be understood, and not necessarily to focus on getting every grammar point correct. I welcome...

  • Hi Jinghong,

    You bring up the very salient point of funds. It's great to be willing to respond in an emergency, but without funding it can be impossible. The UN has the Central Emergency Response Fund, which you can learn more about here:

  • Hi Adel Hussein,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. The situation in Yemen is horrible, and one that we at the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership (CHL) are watching closely. One of my colleagues at the CHL was working in Yemen earlier this year, and has spoken of how much she enjoyed working alongside her Yemeni colleagues and how rich Yemeni...

  • Hi F Nhakwi,

    As you point out, safety of your team is extremely important. There will always be risks, in humanitarianism and in any job, but we can work to minimise them and evaluate if situations are simply too insecure/risky.

  • @M.CLEMENTHALL The situation in Yemen is horrible. The Group of Eminent Experts (established by the Human Rights Council to investigate the situation in Yemen) has found that individuals in the Govt of Yemen, as well as from coalition members and de-facto authorities, committed acts that may be international crimes.

    However, I think we need to be...

  • Hi Jennifer,

    You bring up the important point of motives for professionals and volunteers. I'm curious to know what learners in this course think are 'good' motives, and what motives may negatively impact someone's ability to be a humanitarian.

  • Hi Antony,

    I'm sorry to hear about the death of your friend. It is unfortunate that humanitarians face threats to their physical well-being and security in many contexts, and these threats are often greatest for national staff (though incidents with foreign staff often get the most media attention). How do you (and others) think the humanitarian system can...

  • Hi Mohamed,

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Have people been able to return to their homes yet? How are people coping with the damage?

  • @M.CLEMENTHALL I think it's important to remember that within this course, there are people with varied backgrounds who may have different values to yours, too. I'd like to recommend two relatively short papers that explore the ideas of humanitarianism in Islam and East Asia. You (and other learners in this course) may already be familiar with or from one...

  • Hi Masayoshi,

    You raise a great point about some of the actors involved in emergency response - groups like firefighters that are trained to respond to small-scale emergencies in their every day work.

  • Hi Mireille,

    I like your response a lot because I think being open to (constructive, respectful) criticism is a great way to learn and expand your viewpoints.

  • Hi Tessa,

    There are unfortunately many examples of the principles being violated. One example that comes to mind for me is the experience of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) in North Korea in the mid-to-late 1990s. MSF had a small team of expatriate staff working in country on nutritional programmes, but felt they were unable to target the most needy...

  • Oops, sorry about that Margaret! You can find the Islamic Relief paper here:

  • 'tolerable but terrifying' - a poignant evaluation! Thanks for sharing your experience, Heidi.

  • Hi Ahmad,

    You bring up some great points about people's mental health and understanding culture when designing response. I think this last point especially helps highlight the strengths of local responses.