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Field perspectives on multi-year humanitarian funding and planning: How theory has translated into practice in Jordan and Lebanon: Chapter 3

The benefits of multi-year humanitarian funding and planning

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This chapter provides a summary of anecdotal evidence by actors in Jordan and Lebanon on the perceived and experienced benefits of MYHFP for the efficiency and effectiveness of the response. The importance of MYHFP to the localisation agenda and activities with a gender focus is also explored.

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Efficiency through multi-year funding

Interviewees in both Jordan and Lebanon quoted efficiency gains in grant management and staff retention through multi-year funding. As with other research on the topic (Levine, et al., 2019; NRC, FAO and OCHA, 2017), these cost savings could not be quantified, but shared views and experiences by donors and implementers were reported.

Both donors and implementers reported that longer funding time frames often ease the administrative burden by simply reducing the number of grant agreements. This in turn reduces the number of contracts to be negotiated, opened, managed and closed. Implementers also noted that this frees up fundraising capacity to focus on securing grants from other donors instead of having to renegotiate with the same donor in the future. Specifically in Jordan, where the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MOPIC) needs to approve every project that is funded from international sources, these time savings are even more substantial given the potentially lengthy approval process of up to several months. For a multi-year project, it is possible, though not always the case, to only go through this detailed approval at the outset, avoiding delays faced each year by annually funded activities. Still, most reporting processes are driven by demands through internal accountability processes and therefore marginally influenced by the time frame of grants. There was a consensus that the reporting burden is much more strongly affected by differing requirements across donors. In terms of softly or unearmarked multi-year funds, it came through strongly that certain donors feel they might lose visibility of where and how their funds are directed, making it difficult to be accountable to their parliaments. However, heavy reporting requirements on this funding can in turn limit its utility. One interviewee noted that if a donor of unearmarked funds requires exact numbers of people reached in the reporting, there is no choice but to direct the funds to a specific activity, limiting its value to be spread across programming where gaps arise.

Recommendations

Recommendation 6

Grand Bargain signatories to progress workstream commitment 8.1[1] in cooperation with Grand Bargain workstream 9 on harmonised reporting requirements and Grand Bargain workstream 4 on reduced duplication for functional reviews. To counter a trend of increased earmarking for multi-year funding (Development Initiatives, 2019), a balance must be struck between what reporting is necessary for donors to be accountable to the taxpayer and what is feasible for agencies.

Both donors and implementers noted that MYHFP led to higher staff retention through longer contracts and thereby more internal capacity building. The benefits of greater retention of expertise spilled over into improving effectiveness, though again only anecdotal evidence is available to support this.

Box 3

Multi-year humanitarian funding and planning and localisation: the need for long-term cooperation with local and national actors

Reinforcing national and local actors’ capacity to respond to crises through continued cooperation with international actors is a well-known aspect of the localisation agenda (IFRC, 2018). Interviewees from international NGOs working in close partnership with national NGOs clearly pointed out the need for long-term funding and technical assistance so their national partners can sustainably localise the response. Perhaps unsurprisingly, short-term funding to national and local actors that is often tightly earmarked to specific deliverables does not allow for investments in administrative capabilities and staff capacity (Bruschini-Chaumet, et al., 2019). Interview respondents noted that international organisations might be able to take the risk of retaining staff despite not having secured the necessary funds, as support from their headquarters could fill the gap if funding was not realised. This is, however, often not an option for local or national partners. The debate around the localisation of how humanitarian assistance is funded might therefore require a shift from emphasis on quantity, induced by the 25% goal specified in the Grand Bargain commitment, towards quality.

The Justice Center for Legal Aid (JCLA) in Jordan showcases the potential benefits of long-term investments to organisational capacity. It established itself as the largest legal aid provider in the country with the help of two successive rounds of multi-year funding from the World Bank between 2012 and 2019. This funding sustainably improved JCLA’s ability to contribute to the humanitarian response by providing legal assistance to refugees. This long-term financial support allowed JCLA to build a case management system and invest in data analysis skills and processes. It was also used to design standard operating procedures and training manuals, and to fund the organisations’ expansion into 12 governorates. These significant returns on the start-up cost leveraged the effectiveness of new funding received and thereby transformed JCLA’s ability to respond beyond the duration of these two multi-year grants.

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Effectiveness through multi-year programming

Interviewees cited anecdotal evidence for a range of potential and experienced effectiveness gains unlocked by flexible MYHFP. These perspectives from actors in Jordan and Lebanon reflect the established finding that effectiveness gains through MYHFP are not automatic but need to be carefully managed (NRC, FAO and OCHA, 2017; Levine, et al., 2019).

Multi-year programming reportedly enables a continued presence geographically and with a target population. This helps to build trust with affected communities. Implementers note this to be generally beneficial to the response but of particular importance for protection and participatory activities. It was also perceived to benefit processes around accountability to affected populations. A continued presence was also cited to improve the relationships with downstream partners (see Box 3) and responsible government ministries.

A longer time frame of funding and programming also allows for a longer start-up phase, if necessary, with better baselines of the target population’s needs and wider stakeholder consultations. Implementers reported that this improved targeting and coordination with other implementing partners. Long-term programmes might also justify higher start-up costs of logistical infrastructure as returns on those investments are more predictable. This was cited to improve value for money, potentially beyond the duration of the programme for future funding. One donor noted that longer start-up phases to realise the benefits listed above are especially relevant for new approaches, as in a protracted crisis there usually are a range of existing programmes with short start-up phases to support.

Flexible multi-year funding that can be shifted between budget lines and years allowed implementers to adapt programmes based on learning or changing need. In terms of learning processes, respondents found that with a longer time frame of implementation it is feasible to obtain deeper insights through monitoring and evaluation of longitudinal outcome indicators. Several implementers also noted that their large-scale and long-term humanitarian programmes are much more likely to include parallel research or third-party monitoring processes, providing in-depth validation and learning.

Recommendations

Recommendation 7

Donors and their implementing partners should jointly ensure learning through monitoring and evaluation is concluded before the annual review of the next year’s MYHFP budget. As this might not always be possible (e.g. due to a lack of evidence on impact at the very outset of the activity), the flexibility to move funds between years could be beneficial.

There is an opportunity in relatively stable crisis contexts for long-term humanitarian funding to facilitate a transition to a development response where possible. This, however, requires a wider and context-specific discussion with traditional development actors on division of labour. This is to avoid scarce humanitarian resources being increasingly diverted into grey areas of the nexus, while shortfalls in immediate humanitarian need might still be present. Development funding and activities should also extend into this grey area so that the transition of response from humanitarian to development is a process shared by humanitarian and development actors. There is a distinction to be made between MYHF for purely humanitarian activities and MYHF that also targets development outcomes. In some instances, certain humanitarian needs can be addressed more sustainably by a long-term humanitarian response that also tackles their root causes. MYHF then incentivises the design of durable solutions through the predictability it provides.

Recommendations

Recommendation 8

The Grand Bargain workstream on enhanced quality of funding should outline expectations of what MYHFP can achieve in different contexts, reflecting existing recommendations on how to successfully finance the nexus (NRC, FAO and UNDP, 2019), and clarify roles and responsibilities. This should be informed by experiences of humanitarian country teams.

Most of the evidence provided on perceived or potential improvements in effectiveness through MYHFP is anecdotal. Multiple donors and implementing agencies referenced that they see more meaningful reporting and better results for longer term activities, though these documents tend to remain undisclosed between the two parties.

Recommendations

Recommendation 9

Donors should share existing reports from their implementing partners on improved outcomes through MYHFP from bilateral reporting, where possible.

Box 4

Multi-year humanitarian funding and planning and gender: effects on gender-responsive and gender-transformative programming

The research gathered perspectives on how long-term funding might benefit programming through a gender lens. This seems particularly relevant in light of a recent finding in an evaluation of MYHFP that “gender was the single biggest determinant of a person’s agency, in and out of crisis” (Levine, et al., 2019).

Respondents interpreted the corresponding interview question in two different ways: whether time frame of funding and programming makes activities more gender sensitive or more gender transformative. With regards to the former, most of the established implementers agreed that it is standard practice for them to design gender-sensitive programmes irrespective of their time frame. However, for organisations new to gender mainstreaming, MYHFP with a gender focus creates an incentive to build gender-sensitive organisational processes and culture that can trickle down from senior management to field teams. By allowing more time to build capacity on gender sensitivity, it is more likely to become part of the theory of change and not merely a tick box.

In terms of gender-transformative programming, many of the potential benefits of MYHFP still apply:

  • Longer start-up phases with better, gender-sensitive baselines and targeting allow for a more appropriate response, especially as literature supports that different genders experience crises differently (Lafrenière, et al., 2019; IPPF, 2019).
  • Consolidation of gender-related expertise.
  • More effective policy work on changing norms and attitudes around gender roles and on the responsibility of the government in dealing with perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and assisting survivors. For instance, multi-year funding enabled the Lebanese women’s rights organisation ABAAD to develop standard SGBV operations procedures and national case management curricula endorsed by the responsible ministries and universities.
  • Increased ability to work on preventing SGBV through workshops on the causes of harmful behaviours instead of purely reacting to incidents.
  • Building trust in safe spaces for SGBV survivors.

Some of these aspects (e.g. prevention and policy activities) come back to the question of what the ambition of humanitarian funding is: to respond only to immediate need or to also address its root causes.

Notes

  • 1

    In this commitment, aid organisations and donors commit to: “Jointly determine, on an annual basis, the most effective way of reporting on unearmarked and softly earmarked funding and to initiate this reporting by the end of 2017” (Grand Bargain, 2016).

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