UNICEF hosts a big consultation on its partnership approach on 11-12th November 2019.
CAFOD tried to sponsor a partner from Nigeria to attend, but unfortunately the visa did not come through in time. Despite this, we have reached out to a range of partners in different contexts to gather feedback and input. This included a mix of larger national NGOs and smaller local NGOs, different kinds of faith based organisation and secular NNGOs. Several of these were Charter4Change endorsers who highlighted how the eight commitments in the Charter could provide an interesting reference for UNICEF to adapt and reflect on its partnership approach.
Based on these conversations, five key recommendations emerge for UNICEF:
1. Develop a UNICEF global organisational framework and action-plan on localisation and partnership with NNGOs, and consult with partners on this. Time-bound milestones through to 2021 should be identified in line with the new Grand Bargain timeline. This framework should get piloted in certain contexts, lessons drawn from this, and then rolled-out globally. Good practices by certain UNICEF country offices should not just get left to the motivation of individual staff.
2. Agree and implement a fair and equitable global policy on covering overheads of NNGOs. Appropriate overheads are essential for NNGOs’ ability to ensure strong overall organizational systems and processes that reduce risks – including compliance, fiduciary, staff security and safety and ethical (safeguarding) risks. A 2% overhead contribution is apparently being piloted in Nigeria, which is a start but inadequate.
3. Address coherence and timeliness in decision-making across sectors, and between UNICEF country offices and Headquarters. Several partners shared examples of long delays in requests for amendments in programming, including approvals having to go to Headquarters, some of which became effectively impossible to address given the short length of many UNICEF grants. Even at country level, lengthy delays in decision-making between different UNICEF teams has proved challenging for NNGO partners, particularly when the partnership is new, the power dynamic can be an intimidating one, and UNICEF has not explained its processes to the partner.
4. Allow for more time and creativity in proposal development and flexibility during project inception to allow for meaningful consultation with the affected communities, as well as amendments based on feedback from them. Several partners highlighted how the UNICEF’s funding and partnership approach essentially sees NNGOs as sub-contractors to implement priorities set by UNICEF. Selection of winning proposals appears in some cases driven by cost efficiency over all else. Likewise, whilst UNICEF has committed to accountability to affected populations at a corporate level, inflexibility undermines the scope of partners to respond to community feedback.
5. Identify ways to support capacity strengthening with national NGOs. For example, one local NGO acknowledged they need to strengthen their work on Education in Emergency, and could benefit from the insights that UNICEF could share from other contexts. They recommended a simple step, which is not cost intensive, namely that UNICEF staff provide feedback after monitoring visits. Another partner highlighted how much they appreciated the quality training materials and initiatives available from UNICEF, but it took one of the NNGO’s staff to find out about it by chance online. A more deliberate approach to making these opportunities available to partners would be welcome.
Just as UNICEF’s commitment to financial compliance is not left for its offices to determine whether or not it’s a priority, so too engaging with national civil society in an effective and principled fashion should not be left to the discretion of individual offices. Also the good practices which do exist will only get recognised and shared through a consistent global framework.
The good news is that UNICEF has already started on this journey. It’s been encouraging to see the agency commit at this year’s Grand Bargain Annual Review to exploring how it cascades funding down to INGO and NNGO partners, for example. Likewise in the Child Protection Area of Responsibility, it was UNICEF staff who led a process to transform the engagement of local partners at country and global levels. As the agency heads towards a Mid Term Review of its global strategy, the time is ripe to join up the dots across these efforts and give them a framework.
Vast sums of funding flow through UNICEF. The quantity of its funding to NNGOs is impressive, it’s the quality of that funding and those partnerships which can improve. If the agency can take these recommendations forward, it could be game-changing. Here’s hoping UNICEF can start to make that change.
Blog by Howard Mollett, Head of Humanitarian Policy at CAFOD