Putting our money where our mouth is

Improving Financing to Local Actors

By Michael Mosselmans, Head of Humanitarian Programme Practice, Policy and Advocacy at Christian Aid

Studies by Development Initiatives and the ‘Local to Global Protection’ initiative run by Dan Church Aid and Church of Sweden, have exposed that only 0.2% of humanitarian funding goes directly to local and national NGOs, and only 1.6% of funding to all NGOs goes to national and local NGOs.

Yet in my own experience as Head of Humanitarian Programme Practice, Policy and Advocacy at Christian Aid, local presence enables local actors to be first responders – reaching affected people days before assessment teams from the UN and external humanitarian agencies are flown in. Local organisations are able to shape programmes in a contextually appropriate, culturally sensitive way, based on a community’s own understanding of its needs. Local partners, closer to and more trusted by communities, are better-positioned to ensure accountability to affected populations, and respect long-term perspectives. All things that according to multiple evaluations of the ‘State of the Humanitarian System’ that the sector as whole struggles to achieve.

South Omo (003)
Christian Aid working with local partner Agri Service Ethiopia South Omo


The rise in number and complexity of emergencies means the international system is not capable of responding in all settings all the time, implying a need to strengthen local capacities. That is why in December 2014, in our paper ‘Making the World Humanitarian Summit worth the climb’, Christian Aid called for donors, UN agencies and INGOs to provide a minimum of 15% of their humanitarian funding direct to national NGOs. The subsequent ACT Alliance WHS position paper ‘Putting People at the Centre’ upped the ante on Christian Aid’s ask by calling for 20% of humanitarian funding to be channelled directly to national actors by 2020.

CAFOD, the Kenya-based Southern NGO ADESO, Dan Church Aid and Christian Aid took up this baton when we launched the Charter for Change in advance of the October 2015 WHS Global Consultation in Geneva. The Charter for Change makes 8 reform pledges to shift the balance of power in the humanitarian system toward the Global South. These include a pledge by signatories to pass at least 20% of their humanitarian funding to Southern NGOs by May 2018 – two years after the WHS.


This target is by no means perfect. Quotas in general are often viewed as a slightly clumsy policy tools, targets often arbitrary. Some will ask ‘’Why 20%? Why not for instance 80%? Or somewhere inbetween? Is ring-fencing funding based on institutional identity really preferable? Perhaps if we level the playing field then the best organisation, whether they are local or international, will receive the necessary funding?’’

But thus far all the rhetoric around localisation, levelling the playing field and national ownership, has not resulted in concrete progress towards adequate funding for national and local partner organisations. We believe a target is useful in providing an incentive to funding agencies to put their money where their mouth is, and in helping us to measure what progress is being achieved. It is not intended as a hard-and-fast one-size-fits-all solution. Obviously context matters.

DRC (003)
Through local partners Christian Aid works with communities affected by conflict at the North-South Kivu border in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)


But the same criticisms were levelled for example against the MDGs. Why reduce poverty by 50% and not 100%? But the existence of the MDG poverty target proved to be a huge incentive to inspire, increase, measure, prioritise and focus development assistance, and in the end great strides were made in bringing millions of vulnerable people out of absolute poverty. We hope a 20% target can have a similar positive impact. It may be that not every organisation can hit 20%. But by calling upon them to do so, we can strengthen the hand of reformists within organisations, and provide an incentive and trigger for greater progress than would otherwise be the case.

“We need more concrete commitments like [the Charter for Change]  if we are to see real change”

High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing (2015) ‘Too Important to Fail’

The Charter for Change has now been signed by 18 INGOs – (notably including faith-oriented actors including numerous CARITAS and ACT Alliance members and Islamic Relief Worldwide) and has been formally endorsed by well over 100 national and local NGO partners.

The need for reform however goes far beyond just NGOs (who together directly receive only 18% of the total humanitarian funding reported to UN OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service). The UN Secretary General is urging major players, including UN agencies, donors as well as INGOs to bring concrete accountable pledges to the World Humanitarian Summit to help turn his reform agenda ‘An Agenda for Humanity’ into reality. There is a great deal that Christian Aid admires in this and the more comprehensive ‘One Humanity: Shared Responsibility’ report, including a strong emphasis on conflict prevention, on breaking down the unhelpful silo-isation between emergency aid and longer-term development aid, on investing in strengthening the resilience of vulnerable communities before crisis happens and many other good ideas. The key to whether the WHS brings about transformational change to the creaking humanitarian system or is just another talking shop with fine words that do not translate into real actions on the ground is whether donors, host Governments and major agencies step up to the plate and deliver the agenda Ban Ki Moon has laid out.

On February 29 in Amsterdam, a handful of the world’s biggest donors and largest humanitarian agencies started to negotiate a ‘Grand Bargain’ to help give some of the rhetoric around the World Humanitarian Summit some teeth. The idea of the Grand Bargain, created by the UNSG’s High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing’s report of December 2015, is that donors will commit to more flexible, multi-year funding, with less burdensome reporting requirements, in exchange for major agencies committing to greater transparency and collaboration and reduced management costs, so as to make the funding available for humanitarian action stretch further to support more people in need.

However one major concern raised by the humanitarian community with the UNSG’s otherwise excellent agenda is that – not surprisingly as it is written by the UN – it contains a UN-centric vision of the humanitarian world, calling for vastly increased funding to the major UN agencies, who already control half of all humanitarian finance.

Christian Aid believes in a decentralised humanitarian system comprised of diverse local, national and international organisations operating through the principle of subsidiarity, taking decisions and actions at appropriate levels with affected people themselves and those closest to them. The humanitarian system should move away from a centralized, command and control, one-system-fits-all approach to an ecosystem of diverse actors, with contextualised responses to crises, in which frontline national responders receive adequate and timely resources.

“In the global consultations of the WHS, one message made itself heard more loudly than all the others: a call for the localisation of aid.”

High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing (2015) ‘Too Important to Fail’

Importantly one of the 10 agreed themes of the Grand Bargain is more support for frontline national responders. One way to ensure that this actually happens would be to make sure that those major agencies that benefit from this Grand Bargain also implement the Charter for Change 20% commitment. Indeed some are already moving in that direction. One of the largest UN humanitarian agencies pledged at the first meeting to step up to the plate and honour this call to raise their level of direct support to national front-line responders to 20% by 2020. This is a huge step forward and we sincerely hope that this creates a domino effect where the other huge UN and INGO agencies are inspired by this bold leadership, and follow suit.

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