Kirsten Gelsdorf

Kirsten Gelsdorf

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

Education & Training
Master of Law and Diplomacy in Humanitarian Affairs and Food Security, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
B.A. in History/Asian Studies and International Environmental Affairs, Dartmouth College

Kirsten Gelsdorf is a professor of practice of public policy and leadership and the Director of Global Humanitarian Policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Gelsdorf brings over 20 years of experience working in the humanitarian sector.  

At Batten, she co-directs the UVA Humanitarian Collaborative, a research initiative bringing together scholars, global practitioners, and students to develop research and policy supporting the needs of vulnerable populations caught in humanitarian crisis. Through this she has served as the Principal Investigator as well as co-led numerous applied research projects for organizations such as the United Nations, American Red Cross, ELRA, United Nations, Sesame Workshop, and German Government. She currently also the co-founder of Read for Action a humanitarian book club initiative in partnership with the United Nations. She has also been elected to serve on Save the Children’s Strategic Advisory Group, the World Economic Forum Advisory Network, Humanitarian Innovation Fund Funding Committee, and a Senior Fellow at the United Nations Centre for Humanitarian Data.

Gelsdorf is the co-author of the 2019 book “Understanding the Humanitarian World.” She has also authored numerous high-profile policy reports that have been implemented by member states and adopted in key UN resolutions.  She has served as the Guest Editor of the peer-reviewed Disasters Journal and Global Food Security Journal.  Her work has been profiled by National Public Radio (NPR), and she has contributed to the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and DevEx. She is also the co-host of Beyond Aid, the limited series podcast produced with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Her past career includes serving as Chief of Policy Analysis and Innovation at the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and numerous field postings and operational deployments to emergencies such as the famine in Ethiopia, the 2002 South African regional food crisis; the Liberian civil war and the Timor-Leste security crisis; Hurricane Mitch in Honduras, Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Gelsdorf also served as the Humanitarian Advisor in 2010 to President Clinton in his role as the UN Special Envoy for Haiti and as a Policy Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the global food crisis in 2008.

She is the winner of the State of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award, the University of Virginia Excellence in Public Interest Research Award, the University of Virginia All-University Teaching Award, and the Batten School Excellence in Service, Engagement, and Teaching awards in Public Policy and Leadership Award.

She holds a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.