Speaker: Chris Hoffman

First Do No Harm: A Humanitarian's Journey to Greater Wholeness and Contribution

Chris Hoffman, a lifelong humanitarian serving in crisis situations in dozens of countries around the world, realized after nearly two decades of intense work in the field that humanitarians often do more harm than good - largely because they themselves are "not well". Being passionate individuals who move from crisis to crisis, country to country, in short-term stints on behalf of international organizations, humanitarians often are suffering from the trauma they already embody as well as from what they experience afresh in crisis and conflict situations - to the detriment of their clients, their families, and their own effectiveness.

Realizing after 20 years in the field that he was losing touch with what was most important to him (his family and his programs' clients), Hoffman came to see a more generalized crisis of both well-being and effectiveness in the humanitarian and international aid sector. So he stepped out and stepped back to consider how he could support the humanitarian sector to be more effective and innovative.

He first helped through contemplative resilience offerings for humanitarians (consisting of mindfulness and somatic practices) while serving as Managing Director of Garrison Institute International from 2019-2020. Now he aids the sector as Managing Director of Humanity Link, a firm that links innovative companies with humanitarian agencies to develop effective technology for flipping the paradigm in humanitarian programming to be more client-driven. Humanity Link acts as a matchmaker of sorts by linking up those who need help and those organizations who can provide that help. "We have corporates come to us and say 'We have a product we think will work really well in the humanitarian sector. Help us find who we can partner with to use it,'" Hoffman said.

Hoffman is perhaps an unlikely global humanitarian. Born in small-town Ohio to a loving but very young teen mother, the seed for travel was planted by the time he was 10 years old, by which time he had already moved six times with his family. At age 13, he sought to travel abroad, and his local community supported him. He later said, "All of the churches, all of the people and our friends chipped in for me to go. So when you say it takes a village, I'm living proof that it takes a village. It took the village of Bremen, [Ohio] to be able to take a kid and get him out and see the world and really be able to change things." His local school district allowed him to progress by giving reports for his grades through a journal he kept.

So at age 13, Chris went to live in the bush of Matabeleland in Zimbabwe with a group of young missionaries working to help a small community. At 14, he was off to the jungle of Rhodonia in Brazil to work with orphans stranded on the Madeira River. At 16, he landed in Beira, Mozambique soon after peace was declared, living in the basement of an orphanage helping children who were coming of age to have a trade skill to take into their adult lives. A war in Mozambique was just winding down when he was there, and so he got to see United Nations peacekeeping operations and international humanitarian functions in development settings and in crisis situations. He recognized his life's purpose.

After graduating from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Hoffman went to work for the Peace Corps in Kenya, and then worked across four continents for the U.N., World Vision, and other international agencies. "The 20 years from teen to now is peppered with crisis, disaster, more than 40 countries and countless experiences with the United Nations and International Non-Profits trying to find the simplest most effective answers to some of the world's most complex problems," he says.

He established Humanity Link in 2020 to help develop tools and systems that transform how humanitarian organizations interact with people in need - from service delivery to genuine partnership. He partners with corporates to create transformational technology innovations using artificial intelligence, digital identity authentication, and cash distribution solutions for humanitarian agencies around the world. His clients include the International Federation of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Chris is the father of four global children and husband to Wakanyi, "an amazing partner" who he met at a Nairobi bus stop on a sunny Sunday. They live in Groningen, the Netherlands with their dog Thomas and their cat Totoro.

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