Local and national civil society organisations and NGOs are very often on the front-line of humanitarian response – particularly in some of the most insecure challenging humanitarian operating environments, such as Syria and Somalia. With the global outlook being one of increasing humanitarian needs, the importance of domestic responders can only grow.
Yet national NGOs are very much marginalised within the formal international humanitarian response system. If they can access funding at all, it is often unpredictable, volatile and not sufficiently enabling to support development of the capacity of national actors, which is essential if they are to function as a standing emergency response capacity and to help build resilience to disasters.
For example, of the US$12.9 billion in humanitarian aid financing from governments and the EU institutions in 2012 reported by the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) programme, just US$17 million, 0.1% was identifiable as reaching national NGOs directly.
Figure 1. Humanitarian funding from bilateral donors to national NGOs, 2007-2012. Source: Authors’ calculations based on UN OCHA FTS
CAFOD’s work with local partners
CAFOD has a principled commitment to, and a long history of, working in partnership with local actors to respond to disasters. In 2011, for example, 82% of their humanitarian expenditure was channelled through local partner organisations.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of working with CAFOD to research some of the obstacles national civil society actors face in accessing financing for humanitarian response from the wider international humanitarian community. This forms part of CAFOD’s wider work to advocate for a shift towards a global humanitarian system, where international humanitarian financing is recalibrated to enable rather than exclude national NGOs. CAFOD sees the purpose of financing local capacity not only to meet immediate needs, but ultimately to render the need for international response to disasters exceptional.
A widespread lack of transparency
Not surprisingly, the research confirmed that it is extremely difficult to track funding down to final recipients because of a widespread lack of transparency in the global humanitarian system, which GHA has documented extensively. Therefore, we really don’t know how much international financing reaches national NGOs or on what terms.
Also, national NGOs are heavily disadvantaged in applying for funding by a variety of factors including a lack of access to information. This is coupled with difficulties in demonstrating their capacity to manage funds responsibly and effectively in an increasingly risk-conscious donor environment.
Longer-term predictable funding
But the most interesting part of the research was the feedback we received from national NGOs. The top priorities for change cited among the 195 respondents to our survey were (1) longer-term predictable funding (2) inclusion in identifying needs and setting priorities for response. Another major theme emerging from the research is a trust deficit between international and national actors and linked to this.
So in short, its not just about the money – it’s about the nature of our relationships. As one national NGO representative from Kenya suggested:
‘International donors should design a new approach based on mutual trust and collective responsibility in resource management.’
Improvements in the quality of funding for national NGOs
The report identifies a number of practical recommendations, which we believe would facilitate a scaling-up of funding and improvements in the quality of funding for national NGOs. But the first recommendation is to initiate a global dialogue on investing in national response capacity, to bring national actors to the decision-making table as equal partners, precisely to build a culture of mutual trust and collective responsibility.