Making a bargain that is truly grand for people impacted by disaster

In my previous blogs I have talked about the shortage of humanitarian funding and provided some ideas of what we could do to change this. For nearly a year now, a UN High Level Panel has been working on recommendations to improve how we fund humanitarian responses. On Sunday the 17th January their final report, Too Important to Fail - Addressing the Humanitarian Funding Gap, was launched in Dubai.

One of the key ideas was a “Grand Bargain” between donors and humanitarian organisations. Donors should provide multiyear funding, fewer conditions on donations and harmonise reporting requirements that can be very different from donor to donor. In return, humanitarian organisations reduce duplication and management costs, be more transparent about costs and commit to a “participation revolution” where beneficiaries are more listened to and included in basic operational decision making. Changing the rules of the transaction that takes place between donors and humanitarian organisations is a great idea. It has much potential to improve the quality of humanitarian action and realise efficiencies that can mean that more money goes to those who need it most, disaster affected communities.

In the run up to the World Humanitarian Summit later this year, organisations like World Vision have an unparalleled opportunity to engage with the Grand Bargain discussion to improve how humanitarian funding works. Below are three ideas to help the “Grand Bargain” be really grand, for disaster affected communities and the implementing organisations that seek to serve them.

1. The benefits of any Grand Bargain should be passed onto implementers

According to the High Level Panel report, five countries fund two thirds of the humanitarian finance contributed by governments. Half of this funding is managed by just six UN agencies.  These agencies then pass much of this funding on to implementing organisations. For the Grand Bargain to achieve its full potential we need a commitment from all intermediaries that they will pass on benefits onto those who do the final implementation. This should be the case whether it is UN agencies, or NGOs like World Vision that may be passing funding on to national affiliates or local partners. (More on how World Vision works with national affiliates, here).

From the perspective of affected communities it is all about the performance of the final implementing organisation, the one they deal directly with. Without commitment to pass on the benefits, there is a danger that the Grand Bargain could be a good deal for the UN or large NGOs that does not filter down to the field.

2. NGOs should commit to transparency around the true costs of humanitarian assistance

For the Grand Bargain to be really effective, money needs to get into the hands of implementers via the most efficient route possible. (More on the efficiency of financing, here). Otherwise funding may be lost through inefficient or unnecessary intermediaries. The Bargain needs to be about the route that money takes to implementers as much as about the organisations that receive funding. In order to enable this, all humanitarian organisations should be transparent about their costs and how much money they pass on to implementing partners or, in our case, national affiliates.It’s likely that this transparency will stimulate discussion about the true costs of humanitarian action and a better understanding of the differences in best practice funding across different contexts.

For example, the funding dynamics in a large scale natural disaster in a country like the Philippines are very different to working in the middle of a complex conflict like Syria or Yemen. Sector wide use of something like the IATI standard’s humanitarian extension could help to build up a comparative idea of the costs of different organisations and funding routes across widely differing contexts. This would help to identify the best routes for funding and which organisations are best placed to do the final implementation. Currently we do not have this data, and systematically collecting it could be key to strengthening the benefits of the Grand Bargain.

3. Funding should use the Core Humanitarian Standard to incentivise and support listening and including affected communities

The Grand Bargain calls for a “Participation revolution” in which organisations listen more and include beneficiaries in decisions that affect them. On the face of it this is nothing new, NGOs and UN agencies have been working towards greater accountability to communities for the last decade or so.

However, funding community feedback and complaint systems and implementing the organisational systems and training at field level adds costs to humanitarian action. In recent years funding pressures have pushed this discussion down the priority list as the majority of emergencies have been significantly underfunded. If the Grand Bargain is to be serious about a “participation revolution”, this needs to be supported with changed funding behaviour.  Implementers need to be able to budget the costs of building community accountability systems into projects and donors need to be prepared to fund these activities.

For this to be done in a fair and consistent way we need standards around what organisations should provide for the communities that they work with. This must go beyond technical standards around the things they distribute or services that they provide, to include how the organisation functions and what accountability systems they have in place.

Fortunately, the humanitarian sector spent several years working together to develop the Core Humanitarian Standard which defines what an organisation should look like to deliver quality humanitarian action. To enable the Grand Bargain to talk meaningfully about a “Participation Revolution” and the capacity building of implementing organisations, there should be a commitment to use the Core Humanitarian Standard to determine the support costs that funding should pay for.

The Grand Bargain is potentially very good news for disaster affected communities and the organisations that work directly with them.  In the run up to the World Humanitarian Summit, we should look at the above ideas to help it deliver on its promise and potential.