On World Humanitarian Day, where are the examples of ‘good donorship’ in conflict, disasters etc?

It’s World Humanitarian Day today, and I want to talk about money, but not the perennial topic of quantity of aid for emergency relief.  Let’s talk about WFP aidquality.

On my visit to the DRC in May, I was pretty shocked by the conversations I had with humanitarian colleagues about how they fund their work. The ‘crisis’ has been going on for some 20 years, but the official funding system is still designed largely for ‘sudden onset emergencies’ like earthquakes. If you want to do anything longer term (like the great work we are doing on civilian protection committees), you have to cobble together a string of short term grants. That in turn means huge transaction costs for the poor sods spending their time writing endless (and very long) grant applications, insecurity for staff and the risk of losing your painstakingly assembled team if there is a funding gap.

The research bears out my impressions. A recent paper commissioned by DFID argued that ‘substantial value for money gains can be made by shifting to multi-year humanitarian funding’ in responding to crises, whether they are protracted, predictable (eg floods in Bangladesh) or unpredictable, rapid onset events.

So when I got back I asked the people in our funding teams for their examples of ‘good donorship’ – who if anyone, is breaking the short-termist mould here? Some interesting replies came in – time for a typology:

Flexibility within existing (short termist) rules: Although the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) is limited by European legislation as to the length of contracts they hold with partners, they do realise that longer term resilience work is important, to save lives before an emergency happens. This outlook was best exemplified in the “Regional Drought Decision,” which was essentially a multi-year commitment by ECHO, starting from 2006, to fund drought preparedness and chronic vulnerability in the Horn of Africa.

#long term funding?
#long term funding?

Changing the Rules: Oxfam is now entering into a Strategic Humanitarian Partnership Agreement with the Swedish aid agency, SIDA. The HPA is Oxfam’s first truly multi-year humanitarian framework. It has a predicted value of approximately £16m over three years and has three strands: funding for chronic/ongoing crises, funding for sudden-onset crises or a step change in an ongoing crisis, and funding for “strategic” projects to enable us to better structure and resource our humanitarian response.

Expanding the boundaries of what constitutes ‘humanitarian’:  new streams of more predictable funding are coming through for humanitarian ‘resilience programming’, which allows donors to provide predictable funding for rapid humanitarian response, invest in partner capacity building and even fund social protection work in vulnerable countries such as Yemen.

Smarter triggers for changing projects in response to events: USAID’s “Crisis Modifier” approach has in-built humanitarian indicators within a longer term programme, which if reached initiate an injection of cash and change of approach – or indeed before they were reached, to avoid the humanitarian situation in the first place.

Core funding: Top of the pops, according to our funders, is our ‘Programme Partnership Arrangement’ with DFID’s Conflict, Humanitarian and Security (CHASE) department, worth £7.8m over 5 years. This is the most innovative of all of these examples since we are able to use it flexibly and with a heavy emphasis on policy work related to our humanitarian mandate. It has enabled us to invest in the areas that might otherwise have been unfunded by institutional sources and public funds; subject to reduced investment and/or de-prioritised in the organisational planning processes; implemented through multiple discrete projects with shorter timeframes; adapted to be less risky and/or innovative or ended up being more inflexible and/or less responsive to the needs of programmes.

The PPA illustrates a further point: there are some humanitarian activities which find it even harder to get funding than multi year operational programming. These include innovation and methodological development, local partner capacity building and advocacy. This partly explains why we also used the PPA to advocate for an Arms Trade Treaty, and long term work to strengthen civil society in fragile and conflict states.

But before you conclude that everything is being sorted, let me stress that these are still very much the exceptions. Here’s what Jane Cocking, our understandably knackered Humanitarian Director replied (who’d want her job right now?)

‘The hard truth is that the majority of programmes in long term chronic crises are a heroic result of teams being able to think long term vision and

What if this happens every year?
What if this happens every year?

manage short term patchworks of funds. This is where the value of private donors and unrestricted (i.e. not for specified projects or activities) funding comes in.’

Which all begs the question, if the case is so overwhelming, why hasn’t it happened yet? At which point, I will stand back and let all you political economy types get stuck in. But I’m also interested in other examples of good donorship, and some idea of what percentage of overall humanitarian funding is longer term.

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16 Responses to “On World Humanitarian Day, where are the examples of ‘good donorship’ in conflict, disasters etc?”
  1. charlotte sterrett

    And with climate change increasing the frequency and intensity of many hazards and stresses the need for longer term strategic funding is only increasing. Pity that many donors are still playing catch up. Or in the case of the Australian Federal Government (thinking about our PM here and his sidekick Greg Hunt, who have rather strange views on what’s good for the environment); denying that climate change is a problem altogether. Charlotte

  2. Steve Thomas

    If the norm was donors offering long term funding this would reduce the burden for recipient organisations in terms of time and cost spent acquiring multiple short term income streams. Recipients then spend less time on acquisition of income and more time on the project itself – win/win for donors and recipients.

  3. Ellie

    In particular funding for meaningful capacity building commitments to national partners is both critical and unlikely to be covered by statutory donor emergency response funds. Such partnerships need to be long-term, essentially development commitments, encompassing government, societal and private sector capacity building, if us humanitarians are ever to truly ‘do ourselves out of a job’. As Jane identifies, private donors are a target here. I’m currently working on accessing high net worth individuals in the Middle Eastern Gulf region with an interest in philanthropy. Philanthropy is a growth area in this region which thus far the likes of Coutts have been most successful at exploiting, but private foundation portfolios are often ignorant of capacity building and organisational development potential projects. I believe there is hope for additional humanitarian funding from such sources yet!

  4. Ben Ramalingam

    Without wanting to deny the donorship problem, is there not at least as much of an issue in bridging humanitarian and development perspectives in policy and operations? The superb IIED review of NGO aid to the Sahel published in 2007 talked about a ‘shocking level of antagonism’ between the development and humanitarian sides of the system, and says that despite the ongoing debates, this remains largely unresolved.

    Seven years on, the two sides seem as divided as ever. The resilience agenda was intended to be a means of bridging the divide, but speaking from personal experience, the way in which it has been picked up and applied seems to have reinforced rather than resolved the silos.

    • Duncan Green

      Thanks Ben, No question that the divide between humanitarian and development is deep – mindsets, world views, disciplinary backgrounds, incentive systems etc, but I’m seeing a few hopeful signs (eg recent visit to DRC covered on this blog). Hopefully it won’t be able to resist a combo of reality + donor incentives to think and work differently!

  5. Duncan

    Thanks for a really interesting blog post and for picking up on DFID’s study on multi-year humanitarian funding. I must declare an interest as I led on the work for DFID and was also the Lead Adviser for Oxfam’s CHASE PPA.
    I’m not a “political economy” type, but can point to two key reasons why longer term funding is not happening much.

    1. An unwillingness to admit that, other than in a few cases, the acute crisis is actually part of an on-going chronic crises. And the media story that is pedalled is “give today and you can save this community”. We as the aid community, have failed to communicate that it’s actually a long-term problem and won’t be solved in 1 year. I worked in various NGO’s for 10 years, before joining DFID, and we’re all guilty of pushing this story. By committing to multi-year funding, the long-term nature of the issues is being tacitly acknowledged. I sometimes get the impression that the media/fund raising bits of organisations are not keeping up with the policy debate on these issues.
    2. The current focus on results means that committing to core or multi-year funding for a future response, the scale and type of which is unknown, is challenging. For example, committing say £10 million over 3 years for humanitarian response in Niger, when the exact needs for next year are not yet clear, is challenging. Again, we have to show value for money and that we are being responsible when spending taxpayers’ money.
    The study on multi-year humanitarian funding pulled together some evidence to demonstrate the advantages of multi-year funding. DFID has also commissioned a thematic evaluation of a number of DFID humanitarian programmes in fragile and conflict-affected states (FCAS) to generate learning and evidence on whether multi-year humanitarian funding can ensure a more effective response and build disaster resilience in practice.

  6. Claire

    Hi Duncan, just to let you know, several DFID country offices are working with multi-year humanitarian funding now as well – Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen the Sahel region and Syria & neighbours are all trying the approach in various ways (you can find details of the programmes on the Development Tracker http://devtracker.dfid.gov.uk/.)

  7. Emily

    Great blog and agree completely. Having worked on both sides of the coin but in recent years writing proposals for humanitarian funding to a variety of donors, changing funding practices is one of THE ways to immediately change humanitarian response. Funding needs to be flexible to respond to changing contexts, and stable to actually build essential and truly collaborative relationships with local partners and staff. Chasing patchwork funding is unfortunately the norm for big and small organizations, especially in sectors like protection. Not only is it bad practice, it’s unsustainable and keeps us from really putting our heads together to improve our approaches (international and local organizations alike). It’s good to read about progressive, albeit small changes in the donor community.

  8. Cynan

    I just wrote a long post about how progressive govt donors (DFID/SIDA) are making the right steps, and then a long litany of how the UN system is the elephant sat in the middle of the road blocking traffic, and what to do about it.

    But I’ve deleted that to say instead: Hey donors! Just make a $50m/5year commitment to the START Fund!

  9. Sam Gardner

    Dear Duncan,

    This is a rare event, but I have to disagree with you. I have to thank you for giving me the floor to make my point, because I think it is an important debate.

    I advocate a deeper gap between development and humanitarian and short term projects (2 years).

    . For different reasons. Perhaps it is because I don’t come fro the DFID-Oxfam ecosphere, settling in cosy group think. I will try to make my case forcefully, hoping my point comes over. Of course you are right pointing our your problems, but solving these problems might (I am not sure, but I have some experience) be good for the NGOs but bad for the humanitarian assistance.

    The gap between humanitarian and development is deep, and should be deepened. Just put the list of objectives of humanitarian aid and sphere standards next to the New Development Goals. Put the humanitarian principles (putting the affected people first) next to the Busan principles (working always through the dictator in power). Nowhere in your text is mentioned what the money will be used for , and if all are saints, all is well, but when looking at the different interests at stake in a country like DRC, the danger is very real that political choices will prevail. You might remember the romantic involvement of the political leadership in Europe with Kagame and Museveni. Development is a mess. Anything goes.

    So if we go for long term funding, merging development and humanitarian approaches, the humanitarian budget will be subject to the same pressures military aid is subject to. No thanks. Think through the consequences for Afghanistan 2005.

    Long term contractual arrangements, like the choice for microsoft products, without any way to recoup your captured data, or with private sector companies that are too big to fail such as the power sector, or development NGOs, tend to get cosy. Look at the article of Tim Harford (http://timharford.com/2014/08/monopoly-is-a-bureaucrats-friend-but-a-democrats-foe/)

    Organisations have their own internal incentives, careers, power relations. Just like budget aid tends to strengthen the powers that be, monopolies the monopolists, long term cosy relationships between governments and NGOs tend to make NGOs toothless money spending machines for whom the relationship with their donor is more important than the beneficiaries. Like public private partnerships are seldom following state of the art tender procedures, these long term relationships tend to become a marriage of convenience, with both partners having too much to lose to ask for a divorce.

    It is true, all arrangements can stay challenging and fresh in theory, but if we cannot guarantee this in a relationship, why should we take the risk with government money aimed for people affected by crisis? Indeed, if the beneficiary would be the NGO, I would agree.

    The liberation of working with MSF! They do take government money, but refuse any strings, and keep doing what they need to do with their own funds, using government funding only as a top up. MSF is a free actor and blatantly dares to talk truth to power.

    If an NGO takes government money, they are a contractor, and it is wise to follow the principles of bidding for government work.

    In this regard, I more appreciate the ECHO approach – long term commitments to a policy, even procedures, but short term contracts – then the DFID approach – development needs depend on the government in power in the UK (coordination before, resilience now), long term contracts are used to prolong the live-cycle of these short term fads beyond the electoral cycle.

    Analysing NGO project proposals, I am often surprised about the lack of long term view, real analysis of the environment and risks I see in development projects, while the embeddedness and professionalism of sphere compliant projects in humanitarian assistance is surprising for such an environment.

    Due to their limited scope, humanitarian projects are forced to think better about their environment and their impact. Due to their short term horizon, they need to make sure they are not entrenching themselves too much and provide for a possibility of take over.

    In his way, chasing patchwork funding is an assurance to work in a modular approach and keep your analysis fresh. Challenging yourself constantly.

    It is a better approach to a complex system respons in a country in conflict than long term arrangements.

    When I was new in the sector of funding DRC, I saw a lot of funding in short term contracts, but perpetuated forever. Moving to a selection process based on the sphere standards, showed that most of the money was just not efficiently allocated. The NGOs became the beneficiary. With short term projects and long term commitments to policies, priorities and standards, there might be less stability for NGOs, but more for the beneficiaries.

  10. Richard Chilvers

    Interesting – we need MSF voice to sound the alarm – eg their recent report http://www.msf.org.uk/sites/uk/files/msf-whereiseveryone_-def-lr_-_july.pdf. A possible solution, along with eg the Start Fund and DFID’s RRF, are organic Quick Impact Projects (some of which will fail), later meshing with a longer term response matrix (heard about that at SCUK). As humanitarians/development professionals, we need to accept valid criticism of the funding mechanisms and the complex and protracted nature of some emergencies, particularly chronic ones such as in DRC, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc. I also appreciate Sam’s point on context analysis and this needing to be ongoing, not just at the start of a response/project. This is something Within and Without the State (I declare my interest in the DfID PPA) http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/our-work/citizen-states/within-and-without-the-state is working on. Building complexity theory (see Dr Jean Bolton on this) and ongoing analysis into programming as well as enabling people themselves to own their challenges and solutions we could evade some of the short-termist and unnecessarily expensive interventions. We’ve know for a long time that people in South Sudan are moving towards the f-word. They deserve better.

  11. Thomas

    Interesting hypothesis that we need to broaden the divide between humanitarian and development, Sam. Unfortunately your arguments are premised on a few popular myths about NGOs and aid:

    Myth 1 – NGOs are more accountable with short-term humanitarian funding contracts – It’s simply not true to argue that long-term development funding lacks the same mechanisms of accountability. Have you seen DFID’s new Payment by Results strategy? In many instances, DFID requires its partners to achieve not only project outputs, but also project outcomes over a longer period of time. Fail to deliver the output – or even the outcome – and you don’t get paid. If you want to keep those NGOs on a short leash, then there are many more creative ways to ensure greater accountability and more competition other than through funding contracts of limited duration.

    Myth 2 – Development NGOs can operate independently without government funding – Hats off to MSF for mobilising sufficient public resources for urgent humanitarian relief through public donations, and resorting to government funding as top ups. But the fact of the matter is that MSF is able to do this because the public will give generously for short-term, urgent, and tangible humanitarian relief – doctors, medicines, hospitals, and other life-saving kit. The public gets doctors without borders. But when was the last time any NGO launched a public appeal for a women’s economic empowerment programme in Tajikistan? Or a good governance programme in Zimbabwe? Or any other serious long-term development programme that falls outside of a 24-hour news cycle? Fact of the matter is that governments play a vital role in providing the resources needed for equally important development assistance to solve more intractable, long-term problems and deliver sustainable and transformational change. Much as NGOs would like MSF-style funding for their long-term work, it simply isn’t going to materialise – especially if you want to build the capacity of local partners and national governments for humanitarian response over a 3- to 5-year time-frame.

    Myth 3 – Government funding means loss of independence – No development agency worth its name wants its programmes subject to undue donor, let alone government, influence. And as a result, some organisations have safeguards in place to limit the amount of funding they can receive from any single government source – not only to manage the financial risk of dependency, but also to protect the independence of their thought and action. So let’s give credit to those NGOs who are able to form meaningful partnerships with government donors to tackle poverty through development cooperation, while at the same time retaining their independent voice to criticise official policies when they don’t deliver for people living in poverty.

  12. Sam Gardner

    Hi Thomas,

    I myself was working on the other side of the fence until recently, and I had my share of myths.

    Let us start with another one:

    Myth 1: NGOs can be talked about as a group. NGOs and governments tend to think in corporatist way about NGOs. However the difference in quality, setup, objectives, working methods of NGO’s is so different that any generalization is difficult. NGO, you think Oxfam, I think SWEDOW. In money mobilisation SWEDOW groups are still doing well.

    When I looked at it last time (I moved on), the DFID initiative was still not operational. It promised to be a nice system, and very accountable, but risking very much to become a cosy relationship (with accountability systems, but still cosy) around shared interests. Interests. Commonly defined. Where are the beneficiaries? Entrenching common interests in the longer term.

    The biggest risk in government spending is not waste, but inappropriate allocations and the lack of competitive, transparent allocations. We are working with public money. Is it not a form of racism when there are different principles at work for grant allocations for development as for in country spending?

    I just say that a system with short term contracts can be good for capturing the fluidity of a situation within a dynamic environment where NGOs are not considered as the beneficiaries, and considering the financial regulations of most governments, probably better than long term contracts with national champions (Oxfam is a national champion in the UK, no?).

    Myth 2: Service delivery is the mainstay of an NGO. It is not. Their function is advocacy and change. Service delivery is the duty of government. NGOs can help, but it should not be instead of government. This brings us back to the DRC and Haiti, where the independence of NGOs and donor projects in service delivery have contributed to the fragmentation of society and implosion of the state. A problem Humanitarian NGOs seem to get better than the long-term development missions in the region. Against an NGO, there is no right holder, as the NGO is no duty bearer.

    So yes, most NGOs will need the government money to do the emergency service delivery. But to what degree do they sell their soul for it? Again, Oxfam has a strong moral fibre, Tearfund and MSF too. But still everybody knows internally the anecdotes where the alignment with the donors’ interest became too important. This service delivery is a contract. Let us treat it like one. I did not mention yet the advantages for an NGO to keep the options open for funding opportunities and diversification. Nor the fact that as early as last year different NGOs confirmed to me that getting funding in the DRC was less of a problem than spending it. As funding was rather abundant, short term contracts were far less problematic.

    Myth 3: Indeed, I could not agree more. The good NGOs would “rarely” do that. I can give you immediately a long list of NGOs who are not worth their name. Let us not create a humanitarian system based on how the best NGOs work, and subsequently fund all the others under the same system. Certification is however a corporatist approach for what selection in a more competitive environment does. I am indeed pushing for a high level bar on standards (Sphere, Hap, etc), while maintaining competition for those who are, well competitive.

  13. Sam Gardner

    But more importantly: deepening the gap .

    Humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering and preserve human dignity. How much money is there available for this task? I hear the UN now officially feeds refugees in the Central African Republic less than necessary to survive. We starve them.

    Meanwhile, in development there is a problem with “delivery” aka spending is not fast enough. Nobody said the development people had to go when the crisis came. I notice they are ogling the humanitarian efficiency, funding and procedures instead of just getting their oown act together and define their own priorities a bit better, dump Busan and Paris and really start to work rights based. Not the rights of the elites I mean.

    I notice that on bridging the gap we mostly want to make humanitarian more developmental. While keeping development whatever.

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