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The role of local actors in a Grand Bargain on Humanitarian Funding

By Anne Street, Head of Humanitarian Policy

The recent launch of the report of the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing was eagerly awaited by many of us working in the humanitarian sector. The report itself is excellent, engagingly written and jam packed with ideas and recommendations, although most of them, to be truthful, have been around in the policy community for a number of years, including a number we at CAFOD have been promoting (on the future of humanitarian funding and financing national NGOs) . Its focus on investment in preparedness, resilience, localisation of humanitarian aid and the need to listen to crisis affected populations are all welcome. But how to make them happen? What are the financial enablers in all this and where is the political will?

What has been lacking in recent debates about humanitarian financing has been the high level attention and the political muscle to truly move the agenda forward. We all agree on the need for change, and that is why CAFOD and many other NGOs have been so actively engaged in the discussions in the run up to the first ever World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul in May of this year. But achieving collective agreement on what we will change, how to do it, and individual organisational commitments to change itself are much harder. This is why the High Level Panel (HLP) is so important, and why the commitment of its members, the likes of the co-chairs, Kristalina Georgieva, Ex EU humanitarian Commissioner and HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah of Malaysia, is so crucial. There is so much riding on the Panel’s ability to use their influence to leverage change, to continue to push humanitarian actors to really change.

One of the recommendations which could potentially have the biggest impact is the Panel’s proposal for a Grand Bargain between donors, such as the UK government and implementing agencies like the World Food Programme or UNICEF to jointly change their working practices. In return for donors committing to provide more multi-year funding, with less ear-marking and less demanding reporting requirements, the implementing agencies will agree to work more closely together, coordinating on needs assessments, reducing duplication and administrative costs. This will be accompanied, the HLP proposes, with donors and aid agencies working more closely together towards financial transparency, more support to national first responders and a scale up in the use of cash-based programmes.

So what will the terms of the Grand Bargain be and how can we make this happen? We certainly have our work cut out to get it up and running before the WHS in May? I have a couple of concerns and then some suggestions.

Firstly the HLP is unspecific about who will be included in the Grand Bargain. It talks about the 6 UN agency ‘giants’ which receive over 50% of donor funding. But it is rather vague about whether to include NGOs, who we know actually deliver way more than 50% of humanitarian assistance. So it is vital that NGOs are included in the Grand Bargain.

Secondly it is essential that the Grand Bargain also works in favour of national first responders. The HLP rightly notes the astonishing fact that only 0.2% of international humanitarian assistance is currently channelled directly to local organisations and commends the Charter4Change initiative led by CAFOD, the Africa based ADESO, Christian Aid and Dan Church Aid to address this, by calling on INGOs to pass at least 20% of their funding to local organisations by 2018. But tying the Grand Bargain, which will focus on the largest actors in the system, to the needs of local actors is much harder ask.

So here are CAFOD’s suggests for the Grand Bargain to make a difference for national responders and the crisis affected people they serve:

Donors must provide the incentives to make a focus on national actors happen. They should look carefully at the Charter4Change and whether they should encourage all the agencies they fund, including UN agencies to work towards passing 20% of their humanitarian funds on to national actors.

Commitment 1 of the Charter4Change. CAFOD is pushing for more funding to go directly to National NGOs

Commitment 1 of the Charter4Change. CAFOD is pushing for more funding to go directly to National NGOs

Another way for donors to encourage and track that the big international agencies they fund are sharing the pie with local actors is to introduce a ‘localisation marker’

As part of both the localisation agenda and the commitment in the Grand Bargain to transparency, all participants in the Grand Bargain should track and transparently publish how much money they pass on to the national and local organisations who are doing the work on the ground.

Some big UN agencies pay nothing or almost nothing to national NGOs for their running costs. – How can you have a truck to take the relief supplies to the refugees or transport water pipes or cement or tarpaulins without sufficient money to service the vehicle or change its tyres? This must change.

Finally national organisations often don’t have enough money to provide adequate training and skills enhancement to their staff. International organisations must dedicate time and money to supporting them in this and again the Grand Bargain must include this.

Through the Charter4Change nearly 20 INGOs have committed to providing robust capacity support to national and local actors

Through the Charter4Change nearly 20 INGOs have committed to providing robust capacity support to national and local actors

Without this focus on localisation of humanitarian financing the Grand Bargain risks being a grab on the part of the biggest humanitarian players to get their hands on more money, without ever providing the financial enablers which support national actors who, after all is said done, are there before, during and after the emergency.

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