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Humanitarian Rae McGrath receives honorary degree


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Writer and Independent Advisor on humanitarian response to conflict and natural emergencies, Rae McGrath, has received an Honorary Doctorate from Leeds Beckett University.

Rae McGrath portrait

Rae, who was Mercy Corps Director responsible for programmes in North Syria and Turkey including migration response, has an enduring interest in all aspects of civil society advocacy, the effects of popular language on the rights of minorities and the impact of sustained bombardments on civilian populations, especially on youth.

His day-to-day work for more than 32 years has been the delivery of humanitarian aid to communities in frontline, bombarded and besieged areas and immediate natural disaster response.

Rae was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by Leeds Beckett University at today’s ceremony.

On receiving his honorary degree, Rae said: “Receiving this degree from Leeds Beckett is an affirmation of a lot of the work I have done over the past 30 years in the humanitarian field. I’ve always had the support of universities in this country and other countries, so I feel like it’s something of a coming home for me. It’s very nice to be honoured in this way.

“I have three messages for today’s graduates; the first would be to make sure that you enjoy life, to do the things that will make you happy – don’t put them off till next week. I think secondly, it’s very important to set out with a plan and it doesn’t matter if you don’t exactly get it right. Finally, and most importantly, to respect other people’s rights and to speak out if you see injustice.”

Rae left the military following nearly 18 years as a military engineer in the UK Armed Forces in 1985, his first assignment being with Save the Children Fund UK, managing the distribution and transportation of emergency food aid throughout Darfur in Western Sudan. He has since specialised in emergency humanitarian response to conflict and disasters in countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East, working with a number of major international and indigenous Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). During the 1980s Rae established mine clearance and minefield survey projects within INGO agricultural programming in Paktya Province of Afghanistan and later managed the deployment of the first United Nations mine clearance programme in Afghanistan, in Kunar Province. He has also been active in humanitarian-based advocacy and was a co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) which he represented when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. As a Nobel co-Laureate he delivered the Peace Lecture.

He worked closely with Princess Diana introducing her to landmines advocacy issues and was also a leading member of the Cluster Munition Coalition, providing much of the technical basis for the campaign’s legal and humanitarian arguments. Both campaigns resulted in new international treaties and the ICBL was instrumental in establishing the principle of NGOs’ participation in international treaty conferences. Rae was the founder of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and was its first CEO until 1996 when he left to pursue his preference for field-based work delivering emergency humanitarian aid in complex scenarios. While at MAG he helped to establish many of the core technical principles which still underpin humanitarian survey and clearance of explosive ordnance today. McGrath has also specialised in placing battlefield realities into the contextual framework of International Law and looking for practical means to ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered across battlefields and how combatant commanders can be engaged in ensuring successful and casualty-free implementation.

Among a wide range of assignments over more than 30 years of humanitarian deployments, he worked, prior to the Sudan peace agreement, with local Sudanese partners, the European Commission and the IGAD Partner Forum, to establish the principle of cross-line cooperation to evaluate the scale and impact of landmine usage. The secondary objective of this project was to ensure landmine eradication was incorporated in any future peace talks and to encourage the common ground potential of landmine impact on communities.

Rae was Country Director Indonesia for International Medical Corps for two years following the 2004 Tsunami and led the first phase response to the 2006 West Java earthquake, initiating a rapid air survey to define major impact areas and established a tented medical and aid response close to the epicentre in Bantul. He spent five years as Senior Response Manager for Save the Children Emergency Response teams coordinating many disaster and conflict programs worldwide. In April 2013 he became Mercy Corps’ Country Director for North Syria and Turkey, heading up the biggest cross-border humanitarian response into Syria, focused primarily on Aleppo Province and especially on the besieged and heavily bombed eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo City, providing food, flour and other essential commodities on a daily basis and establishing refugee programming in Turkey. Since the beginning of 2017 Rae has been working independently, providing conflict response advisory services and training for INGOs as well as writing and lecturing.

Born in Liverpool, Rae was an Associate and Visiting Lecturer at the Post War Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU) at York University for more than 17 years. Rae has lectured widely worldwide on humanitarian and conflict issues and is author of a number of books and key papers.

The full list of the nine honorary degrees to be awarded by Leeds Beckett University is:

  • Monday 24 July Caroline White, Hon Doctorate of Sport Science.
    Caroline is the CEO of the Youth Hostels Association, giving young people life-changing opportunities through travel, education and engagement with others.
  • Tuesday 25 July Rae McGrath, Hon Doctorate of Laws.
    Rae is a Writer and Independent Advisor on humanitarian response to conflict and natural emergencies. Rae, who was Mercy Corps Director responsible for programmes in North Syria & Turkey including migration response, has an enduring interest in all aspects of civil society advocacy, the effects of popular language on the rights of minorities and the impact of sustained bombardments on civilian populations, especially on youth.
  • Wednesday 26 July, 10am Sally-Anne Greenfield, Hon Doctorate of the University.
    Sally Anne is founder of Leeds Community Foundation, which channels financial resources to help local issues of child sexual exploitation, domestic violence and the poverty gap, amongst others.
  • Wednesday 26 July, 1pm Professor Susan Price CBE, Hon Doctorate of Arts.
    Susan is the former Vice Chancellor of the University and a long-standing contributor to the Higher Education sector.
  • Wednesday 26 July, 4pm Nahid Rasool, Hon Doctorate of the University.
    As CEO of Shantona Women’s Centre, Nahid provides crucial support to women of all different cultures and backgrounds.
  • Thursday 27 July, 10am Ben Wilkins, Hon Doctorate of Arts.
    Ben was the sound mixer on the BAFTA / Oscar- winning film ‘Whiplash’ in 2015. He works at Warner Sound in Los Angeles.
  • Friday 28 July, 10am Ady Hinchcliffe, Hon Doctorate of Sport Science.
    Ady is a national coach within the Australian team, a former British Olympic Diving Coach and former Head Coach for the City of Leeds Diving Club, home to six of the British podium divers. He is also a Leeds Beckett graduate.
  • Friday 28 July, 1pm Dr Bob Price OBE, Hon Doctorate of Sport Science.
    During his work on various international Paralympic committees, Dr Price, alumni of the University, has created a lasting legacy for athletes across the world who have an intellectual disability.
  • Friday 28 July, 4pm Kadeena Cox MBE, Hon Doctorate of the University.
    Kadeena is a Leeds Beckett graduate and Paralympic world record-breaker.

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