By Kris Flegg, Senior Humanitarian Adviser, Christian Aid.
On 16-17 May, Christian Aid will be present at this year’s Grand Bargain cash workstream meeting in Rome, to discuss how to ensure local organisations are not left behind as we move towards more widespread use of cash transfers in humanitarian response.
The Grand Bargain is an initiative to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian response which was launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016. Together with other international NGOs, UN agencies, and donor states, Christian Aid signed up to the Grand Bargain’s 51 commitments, which seek to make the aid system more responsive to communities living through conflicts and natural disasters.
These commitments are grouped into nine different workstreams, one of which focuses on increasing the use and coordination of cash & voucher assistance.
That means programmes which use cash to deliver aid to people in need as a core component of the emergency response, when appropriate, instead of (or in addition to) delivering in-kind assistance or services. Cash & voucher assistance can give affected communities greater choice and help strengthen local markets.
However, as organisations become more cost efficient and donors favour funding fewer large-scale humanitarian programmes run by big agencies, we risk undermining another very important Grand Bargain commitment: that we reinforce, not replace local capacity, often referred to as localisation.
Meeting the Grand Bargain commitments
The trend of concentrating humanitarian funding effectively adds another layer of administration charges between big agencies and local organisations. It also adds complexity to grant management, reduces already limited resources and affects local, community-based organisations further down the chain.
Already, resources allocated to cover the running costs of grassroots organisations are extremely limited.
I believe that making funds available to build the capacity of local NGOs and community-based organisations is one way to enable them to deliver quality cash programmes.
The Grand Bargain annual self-reports which measure progress against the Grand Bargain commitments have recently been submitted by signatories, and results will be shared in the coming weeks. However, some of the challenges of meeting the commitments to date have included: much tighter donor compliance issues around cash, limited funds directly transferred to local actors, and increased layers of international agencies all taking their administration cut.
The Grand Bargain commitment to ensure that humanitarian response is as local as possible, and as international as necessary, is being undermined by this increasing trend of involving additional levels of international agencies which ultimately results in fewer funds going directly to local NGO and grassroots organisations. Limited funds mean that local organisations lack flexibility to invest in their own organisational and capacity strengthening to become stronger, sustainable organisations able to respond to the needs of the communities they serve.
Findings from recent research on Accelerating Localisation through Partnerships with more than 350 NGOs in Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria and South Sudan show that local actors see capacity strengthening support as the most important element of partnering with an international agency.
ECHO’s ABC guidance for large-scale cash delivery, for example, will place additional obstacles to meeting the Grand Bargain commitment that 25% of humanitarian funding should go as directly as possible to local actors by 2020. The guidance effectively promotes grants for cash programming going mainly to UN agencies, which are then sub-granted to other international agencies, before potentially being sub-sub-granted to local organisations.
Until we invest in building the capacity of local organisations, and ensure that they receive more direct funding and are included in project design, we will not be giving a voice to local organisations or the crisis-affected communities we are trying to serve, or honouring the spirit of our Grand Bargain localisation commitments.
In addition to providing greater funding for capacity building of our partners, the survivor or community-led response (SLR) approach could be one answer to ensure that local organisations are not left behind in the drive towards increased cash & voucher assistance. This approach compliments multipurpose grants, emphasises community mobilisation and knowledge exchange, community cash grants, and locally-led coordination, as well as emergency capacity strengthening.
Christian Aid has been involved in pilots of survivor-led response, which have already proved that immediate responses to crises can be more timely and cost efficient than traditional top-down responses, while truly putting assessment, design and implementation into the hands of the affected population, and bringing additional benefits to psychosocial recovery and social cohesion (LPPR Report). We have important lessons to share.
I’m looking forward to discussing with the other participants of the cash workstream how we can be more transformative and bold in our cash responses and ensure that local organisations are not left behind.
Find out more: Accelerating Localisation Through Partnerships