KLU Best Dissertation Award goes to Dr. Lea Rüsch

Dr. Lea Rüsch is this year’s recipient of the KLU Best Dissertation Award for her doctoral thesis on fostering cooperation in humanitarian operations. Dr. Rüsch received her prize, which is sponsored by the prestigious Dr. Friedrich Jungheinrich Foundation and endowed with 1,000 euros, at the graduation ceremony on September 14.

“Facing an ever-rising number of humanitarian disasters, humanitarian organizations have to collaborate,” explains Dr. Rüsch. “However, scarce funding in the humanitarian sector makes it very difficult for them. In my PhD dissertation I identified behavior strategies - in particular leadership and communication - and how they can improve the cooperation between humanitarian organizations.”

To this end, Dr. Rüsch’s dissertation compromises three independent studies, the first of which looked at the challenges in orchestrating coordination among humanitarian organizations. Humanitarian disasters mobilize hundreds of organizations, and the United Nations response has been to cluster these organizations to facilitate information and resource exchange. A critical obstacle to the success of this approach, Dr. Rüsch’s research revealed, is a cluster lead facilitating coordination while also investing in its own ground operations, thereby impairing trust and coordination among cluster members. The study was published in the Production and Operations Management Journal (POM) and named runner-up in the College for Humanitarian Operations and Crisis Management (HOCM) at the Production an Operations Management Society (POMS) conference.

A closer look at social media

Social media is a vital medium for sharing information in the humanitarian context. As such, Dr. Rüsch’s second study investigated the extent to which humanitarian organizations cross-promote each other’s information. Publicly funded organizations, she found, tend to be more active cross-promoters than those that are privately funded, a finding that she explains in light of social identity, that those belonging to the same funding group identify with and support each other. This study received the runner-up award from the Institute for Supply Chain Management (ISM) at the Academy of Management Conference (AOM).

Her third study investigates how to enhance the endorsement and diffusion of humanitarian practitioners’ actionable messages during the COVID-19 pandemic to inform the public. Analyzing a total of 14,623 tweets, shared by 590 practitioners from humanitarian organizations, containing actionable information regarding COVID-19, Dr.Rüsch discovered that authentic messages improve, whereas confident messages hamper the diffusion of actionable information.  

These studies have been presented at a number of seminars, including at the KLU, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), and Technical University of Munich (TUM) as well as at conferences such as the Alliance for Research on Social Responsibility (ARCS), Informs, AOM and POMS.

Improving the cooperation of humanitarian operations

"Dr. Rüsch has done invaluable research on humanitarian aid and on ways to improve cooperation between humanitarian organizations,” remarked Andreas Jansen, Chairman of the Board of the Dr. Friedrich Jungheinrich Foundation. “Her research and findings could not be more timely in light of the current global and regional crises. It is a great pleasure to award her with this prize.”

The prize jury was similarly effusive in its praise for Dr. Rüsch’s thesis, describing it as “an outstanding dissertation that contributes behavioral knowledge of crucial use and impact in the field of humanitarian operations.” Dr. Rüsch’s work was supervised by Prof. Maria Besiou (Humanitarian Logistics) and Prof. Niels Van Quaquebeke (Leadership and Organizational Behavior).

Dr. Rüsch graduated summa cum laude from KLU in 2022 and is now working as an Assistant Professor of Decision Sciences at IE Business School in Madrid. Previously, she did her master’s degree in organizational and social psychology at the LSE, where she also served as a fellow after completing her PhD. Dr. Rüsch co-manages the Research Institute on Leadership and Operations in Humanitarian Aid (RILOHA).

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