One year on: time to take the Grand Bargain from a global promise to a field reality

During the World Humanitarian Summit 2016 the Grand Bargain (GB) was signed with great fanfare.  A promise was made to make humanitarian aid money go further by being more efficient and effective.  The GB promises many practical benefits to implementing organisations of all types, such as improved needs assessment, simplified reporting, more multiyear funding and reduced earmarking.  But one year on many people are asking if this is working and what progress has been made? There are lots of working groups, meetings and reports indicating some progress at the global level – but success needs to be measured by progress at field level, particularly how the GB is improving things for implementing organisations and affected communities.  Sure, change takes time, and one year on I believe that three things are needed to make the GB promise a field reality.

One: Invest in Regional Contextualisation

Global generalisations can only go so far.  The financing challenges in different regions and countries are not identical and require a varied combination of solutions.  Conflict and refugee situations in the Middle East pose different challenges to large scale rapid onset disasters in Asia.  Drought across southern and eastern Africa raise again different demands on the humanitarian system.  These differences must be acknowledged and embraced to facilitate regional implementation of the GB.  Recently, OCHA hosted an Asia regional consultation on the GB in Bangkok.  The report of the meeting outlined four things needed to contextualise the GB to make it more relevant to field implementers in Asia:

a)  Increased role for national/ host governments,

b) Making better use of regional networks like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),

c) Better integration with key international agreements[1] and

d) A bigger focus on disaster preparedness and resilience.

Identifying these principles highlights the value of the GB to Asia countries, helps to identify potential next steps and who needs to be involved to make them happen.  These are key steps forward in enhancing the value of the GB and making field roll out possible in Asia.  Similar steps need to be taken to contextualise the GB for Africa and the Middle East, but at the time of writing no regional consultations are planned. Signatories must commit to regional contextualisation to enable better field roll out, relevance and follow up.

Two: Transfer the value from global to field

Much of the GB’s value is still at the global or systems level or still being developed.  After one year, trying to find an example of positive impact of a GB initiative at field level is incredibly hard.  In a review of the available reporting and communications the only example found was a pilot that is about to commence in Myanmar, Somalia and Iraq for the simplified reporting format.  If we want to maintain commitment and ensure the success of the GB, all work streams need to ensure they are doing something that can be felt at the field level so that in another year’s time we are not still talking about global and systems level progress but actual impact from the promised efficiencies for affected communities.  Yes, it is important to garner by in and commitment, and there are a plethora of actors involved with different and valued perspectives, but rather than continuing to theorise on how things could work it is now imperative that we take action.  For example, the localisation target of 25% of funding to local organisations is one of the most talked about workstreams.  This workstream could benefit from learning by doing through a roll out at scale in a handful of countries.  As we increase the number of smaller local partners we will need to change systems and approaches to support them at scale.  Imagine supporting the development of a diverse set of locally appropriate localisation solutions at the country level rather than imposing them from the global system. 

Work streams need to identify field level “quick wins” and then roll them out together in a few protracted crises.  This will make it easier to showcase the GB’s benefits for signatories, donors and implementing agencies to see how many of its advantages are interlinked.  This could include practical things like improved needs assessments, participation, and multi-year planning and funding.  These benefits should be attributed to the GB and have their combined effect measured and communicated in field level case studies. 

Three: Reinvest in communications and political buy in

In the run up to the World Humanitarian Summit 2016, Kristalina Georgieva did an excellent job generating senior level political buy in to the GB.  Since that time, the momentum and visibility has dropped.  The GB secretariat has struggled to find an “eminent person” to replace Ms Georgieva to generate political momentum, encourage global level progress and greater field roll out.  It is time for each signatory to get their senior leadership to promote the GB to their partners and funding recipients.  Having senior figures in donor governments communicate their support for GB work could be key to building momentum between organisations and creating healthy peer pressure to do more.  There is now an official website and other organisations like SCHR  and ICVA are generating some really useful materials.  However, the GB secretariat is only one person.  This is simply not enough to adequately support the work of 10 complicated work streams that are seeking to reform nearly 10 billion USD of humanitarian funding globally.  If the Grand Bargain is to have an impact in multiple field locations we need much greater investment in communications at global, regional and national levels.  

The Grand Bargain is an unparalleled opportunity to do more with the Global Humanitarian Aid budget. It is a promise to identify and implement new ways of working, explore more efficient funding models and pathways, essentially to be more effective in meeting humanitarian needs. But it means nothing if it stays an inspirational document.  The time for talk is over, this needs to be real in the field. 

Currently for NGOs, like World Vision, it is difficult to generate field momentum around the GB because donors are not strongly articulating the value of, and their commitment to, the GB and the tangible benefits for our field partners remain unclear.  As an implementing agency, working across more than 20 humanitarian responses and providing humanitarian assistance to more than nine million people we desperately want to see the promised benefits of the GB at field level.  World Vision has committed to the reporting pilot in Asia, we have launched an internal cash revolution to meet our own target of 50% cash programming, and we are researching the impact of multi-year funding across five countries to build a set of field generated and tested recommendations.  But one, two or even ten implementing agencies is not enough to fully realise the GB potential.  In the next six months, we need to have donors championing the GB to reignite the momentum and work stream leads identifying and rolling out tangible field benefits.

It is time to take the Grand Bargain from a global promise to a field reality.

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[1] Such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Sendai Framework for Action on Disaster Risk

Reduction (SFDRR) and Paris Agreement on Climate Change