Completed Research

Syrian White Helmets: Manufacturing PPE in a Conflict Zone

University of Toronto

Delivering humanitarian aid to conflict zones such as Northwest Syria poses numerous bureaucratic, logistical and security challenges. Moreover, years of civil war have severely damaged the healthcare system, leaving Northwest Syria particularly ill-equipped to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. To mitigate spread of the virus and ensure that healthcare workers are able to safely provide care, the Syrian White Helmets have adopted a unique approach to securing personal protective equipment – carrying out local manufacturing and distribution themselves. This case study focuses on evaluating the role that local production of essential supplies can play in humanitarian responses and how similar schemes can be incorporated in delivering timely aid to other hard-to-reach populations. 

Hard to Reach

Communities in Northwest Syria living in a region where the healthcare system is severely damaged.

Key Takeaways

The outcomes of the White Helmets’ PPE manufacturing project are a testament to the organization’s hard work. Beyond this,
the initiative highlights several key factors that led to a successful implementation of localization in delivering humanitarian goods which includes:

  1. Partnerships with local actors are key to successful humanitarian responses
  2. Collaborative funding partnerships are imperative to successful localization
  3. Local manufacturing can improve humanitarian aid supply’s agility
  4. Building local capacity to achieve long-term sustainable development


This research was made possible through the Reach Alliance, a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Research was also funded by the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy.

The completion of this case study could not have been possible without the support of numerous field workers, experts, and policymakers who agreed to complete interviews with us. Their contributions are truly valued and appreciated. We also expand our thanks to individuals who helped with recruitment and coordination of interviews, as well as those who provided us with contacts and connections. A special thanks to the Humanitarian Grand Challenge team at Grand Challenges Canada for their unqiue insights and participation in the research process. Finally, we express our gratitude for the support and leadership provided by the administrative and support staff of the Reach Alliance.