Case study – Never mind control, think about impact

Sean Lowrie

The 2016 UN World Humanitarian Summit demonstrated a groundswell of voices with a clear message: that power is too far away from the people, and from the local and national first responders who are best placed to meet their needs. These voices came from people affected by disaster and from humanitarians alike.

In our globalized ecosystem, power imbalances and outdated control mechanisms are hindering effective joined-up humanitarian responses everywhere. Why? First, compliance with donor rules and risk management protocols is prohibitively expensive for local NGOs; second, NGOs can lack the capacity to deliver humanitarian aid effectively in increasingly complex environments; and third, donors have limited means to handle the transaction costs associated with so many local grant recipients. Ultimately, the governments and supra-national institutions that are the main sources of humanitarian funding are nervous about giving up their control.

Plan International, Mali. Fingerprinting the list before receiving food assistance.

Start Network, through its members – 42 aid agencies across five continents – is tackling the challenge on all three fronts. It is running 13 disaster preparedness projects aimed at testing improvements in humanitarian financing, decision-making, capacities, planning and action across countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This includes redefining terms or finding innovative ways of meeting donor compliance standards, and transforming the bureaucracy of national and international NGOs.

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