Kirsten  Gelsdorf, ML

Kirsten Gelsdorf, ML

University of Virginia, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

Professor of Practice of Leadership and Public Policy; Director of Global Humanitarian Policy

Expertise: Humanitarian AssistanceGlobal DisasterInternational DevelopmentUkraine HumanitarianRefugees

As a Professor of Practice and the Director of Global Humanitarian Policy, Kirsten brings 20 years of experience working in the humanitarian sector. She currently co-leads a large humanitarian research initiative focusing on building evidence and policy solutions to supporting conflict and disaster responses around the world. 

She has led major policy processes and authored numerous high-profile reports that have been implemented by partners such as the Red Cross, United Nations, and Government donor agencies. She also serves as an advisor to the World Economic Forum, Sesame Workshop, and the Humanitarian Innovation Fund. She has written peer-reviewed articles and been the guest editor of Journal special editions focused on humanitarian crises. In 2019 she co-authored the book Understanding the Humanitarian World. 

Her career also includes long-term field postings and operational deployments to numerous emergencies including the international responses to Hurricane Mitch in Honduras, the Ethiopian Famine, the South African Regional Food Crisis, the Liberian War, the Tsunami in Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina, the Pakistan Earthquake, the Timor-Leste Security Crisis, and the Global Food Crisis. She has also served in leadership roles such as the Chief of Policy Analysis at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and as the Humanitarian Advisor to President Clinton in his role as the UN Special Envoy for 2010 Haiti Earthquake. 

She is the winner of the State of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award, University of Virginia All-University Teaching Award, and the Batten School Excellence in Engagement in Public Policy and Leadership Award. She holds degrees from Dartmouth College and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.


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2022 is now the year where the world will be challenged to address humanitarian needs on an unprecedented scale. The continued impacts of COVID, the war in Ukraine and subsequent global food shortages, and constant challenges of climate related disasters are leaving at least 1 in 33 people worldwide in need of global humanitarian aid. We cannot take human progress for granted and must find ways to address the needs of the most vulnerable around the world.

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