HPC 2014

Humanitarian Effectiveness: The Way Forward

The measurement of humanitarian impact encompasses the evaluation of a range of issues that determine its success or failure. These include: the professionalism of humanitarian actors, good donor principles and practices, the relevance and respect of humanitarian standards, codes of conduct for the provision of aid, and strengthened coordination, leadership, partnership, humanitarian financing and accountability.


Saving lives, alleviating suffering, and provision of sustainable systems are the fundamental objectives of effective aid delivery. However, without a set standard of quality review and accountability, agencies are likely to fall short of reaching their intended communities with much needed assistance.

The final discussions addressed many of these concepts with participants weighing in through interactive debate. They discovered that in this shrinking humanitarian space for aid agencies, partnership approaches are crucial to achieving sustainability, and are fast gaining popularity with local communities. Therefore, agencies need a reorientation on engagement from the conventional ways of providing aid, to supporting communities to take action and lead their own interventions. And though the global humanitarian architecture and funding system still favors international responders, agencies and donors need to adopt this emerging approach, or else undermine the effectiveness of aid delivery.

Well-designed partnerships can help address issues of relevance and appropriateness of aid by designing programs that are contextually appropriate, culturally sensitive, and responsive to needs, based on communities’ own understandings. Furthermore, partner-based responses can provide better accountability and community participation; accountability entails more than compliance, and takes responsibility for quality control and impact.

Other partnerships proposed to elevate humanitarian effectiveness are between technical institutions and academics that can build on research through collection and collation of primary data, interpretation, and analyses, which ultimately create recommendations to increasing efficiency and reducing costs.

In conclusion, building long-term partnerships needs to be a conscious strategy, not a byproduct of circumstances, especially crises. These long-term relationships can no longer be ignored, as they provide an understanding of what it means to be effective: multifaceted and varied. For true humanitarian effectiveness, the sector ultimately needs to be more democratic, balanced and accountable, while placing emphasis on cooperation and collaboration.

Education Experiences of a Seasoned Humanitarian

Edwin Kuria from Save The Children has successfully completed the Graduate Certificate of Humanitarian Leadership with the graduation ceremony set to take place this October in Melbourne, Australia.

The course is offered to experienced humanitarian workers at managerial level, who are selected through a rigorous process that looks into one’s skills more than academic qualifications, for enrollment. “The reason for this,” Edwin says, “is because the university is interested in how we will apply the skills in our fields. This makes the competition pretty stiff!”

The programme is by Deakin University and Save the Children, with contributions from other humanitarian actors. It’s divided into four units: two e-learning units and two residential units – held in Melbourne, Australia and Jakarta, Indonesia. It’s a course that focuses on behaviour, attitude, practice scenarios and simulations.

Kuria, whose background is in nutrition, shared with us some details of the course, “The fourth unit held in Jakarta over 10 days involved a five-day simulation exercise where we were put through scenarios that included interacting with actors portraying different members of the community in scenes that may occur during an emergency. It was an eye opener.” The exercise was used to test the students’ decision-making skills and how well they would function during the difficult scenarios.

“Jakarta was hot. We shared rooms and there was no air conditioning. People fell sick during the simulation. The scenarios were made up but the personalities of the students that came out were real. Tempers flared. We were just two Kenyans and things were not easy for us.” He said. But this was an experience that made him grow. He has noted a change in his decision-making sills and is more aware of the leadership traits needed to motivate the people he works with.

“I would recommend the course not only for those in the humanitarian field but all in leadership. This is a different kind of leadership course. It sets you apart,” he concluded.

Dr. Phil Connors of Deakin University and Stephen McDonald of Save the Children initially designed the comprehensive eight-month programme. They shared their experiences on why the partnership was successful during the session addressing the education needs of humanitarians during the Humanitarian Partnership Conference.

Building Humanitarian and Academic Partnerships

Partnerships with academic institutions present a wide variety of opportunities and possibilities for engagement with humanitarian organizations. Such partnerships require students to conduct research for their publications, and thereafter agencies utilize these findings and recommendations to tailor and improve their activities. This creates a win-win situation for both parties.

“Partnerships need to focus on strategic perspectives, not just on operations. Currently, most humanitarians understand the processes and operations of humanitarian work, but are not trained on strategies and tactics,” said Dr. Paulo Goncalves, founder and director of the Humanitarian Operations Research Center. With emphasis on long-term improvement goals, academic-agency partnerships, will shield personnel from short-term pressures associated with time and financial constraints, as well as set realistic standards.

The success of academic-agency partnerships is dependent on a number of underlying success factors, the major one being senior management support. Senior managers ought to be more involved in the execution process, to ensure speedy decision-making and implementation of recommendations. In addition, for academic-agency partnerships to prosper, stakeholders need to set clear and feasible objectives that complement each other, rather than have competing interests.

During the conclusion, Dr Paulo admitted that this type of partnership could be difficult to establish and maintain, especially in contexts where the vision of both parties differ. This is not impossible, as witnessed in the partnership between the Humanitarian Operations Research Centre and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The two organizations distribute mosquito nets in Ivory Coast, using a cost effective supply chain management system. Organizations were urged to form such partnerships to improve their aid operations.

Setting Up and Strengthening Local Partnerships to Deliver Aid

Following the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a group of aid agencies interested in improving emergency response mechanisms, documented their experiences in responding to the disaster, which resulted in a coalition report dubbed the Synthesis Report: Expanded Summary www.alnap.org/resource/5536 . It calls for a fundamental shift in the humanitarian process from mere aid supply, to supporting and facilitating communities’ own relief and recovery priorities. Few have heeded this call since, and little to no changes in partnerships, policies and practices in aid delivery are seen.

“We should acknowledge that local relationships are critical in understanding the context of disasters, shaping and informing the response, and encouraging local acceptance of assistance. Grassroots partners are therefore key in providing aid,” said Maurice Onyango of Christian Aid. “However, despite the need for more and better local engagement, these partnerships are seen as a threat to the status quo of the sector, in terms of resource distribution, power and control,” he added.

The humanitarian sector must engage more closely with national and regional NGOs and government network bodies that help to smooth the links between resilience, preparedness, response, recovery and development.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD-DAC) has preset criteria used as a benchmark to determine aid effectiveness of programs. These criteria determine the relevance of aid, its effectiveness, efficiency, coverage and connectedness.

The presentation of these criteria sparked a critique of agencies failure to address the communities’ actual needs, which instead tackle perceived needs. Research results show that welldesigned partnerships can address these issues as they ensure that the program design is contextually appropriate, culturally sensitive, responsive to needs, and are based on community understanding.

For now, the conversation needs to shift from cutting costs in aid response, to creating complimentary partnerships in different settings. Thereafter, within these partnerships, agencies can focus on delivery of effective programs at scale.

The panelists and participants urged donors to provide more support to national and local partnerships and pull away from conventional donor trends. Furthermore, knowledge on partnerships should be circulated to enhance understanding of their roles amongst the stakeholders and community. Finally, capacity assessments in humanitarian responses should be used more to move partnerships from bilateral engagement to networked efforts that promote effectiveness.

How Much Are Pastoralists Learning?

How can we support pastoralist communities maintain their livelihoods and thrive in society? That was the focus of the session on sustainable pastoralism development during the second day’s discussion. Currently, statistics indicate that pastoralist communities experience below par education levels, with 30% of children in the third grade unable to comfortably carry out second grade work. In addition, lack of infrastructure hampers technological advances, and inadequate social services discourage teachers from working in those areas.


Dr John Mugo from Uwezo giving a presentation on Uwezo Kenya

Uwezo Foundation, an organization working in East Africa carrying out research on literacy and numeracy levels among children aged 5-16 years, shared some of these astonishing facts. “We’ve found that one in five children in upper primary level cannot tell the meanings of the colors on the Kenyan flag, and that boys lag behind girls in learning competencies,” said Dr John Mugo.  ”It is also more effective to carry out assessments of children in their homes, as they’re in their comfort zone, which raises awareness on education levels and allows for honest feedback,” he added.

Ann Gatende from the International University of Professional Services was keen on technological advances, which she says promote educational equity throughout Kenya.  “Although pastoralists’ children are born into the 21st century, they do not use technology as often as they should, making it difficult for ICT based education to prosper in ASALs. ICT equalizes opportunities so that these marginalized groups do not fall further behind,” she said.

Today, pastoralists receive new pioneering ways to help and protect not only their children, but also their environment and livestock. Pastoralists now access insurance through a program called Index Based Livestock Insurance represented by Dr. Diba Galgallo during the conference. Though this innovative safety net has been unpopular among the Muslim community because they don’t rely on insurance or loans, agencies are now working with trusted Islamic banks to encourage its uptake. This illustrates the need to communicate within our communities and develop relationships that can accomplish much more.

Reshaping Aid Delivery in a Changing Environment

The initial session of the humanitarian effectiveness theme at the conference examined how to sustainably meet the needs of disaster-affected communities. These discussions are a build-up to the World Humanitarian Summit 2016 regional consultations to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa in October 2014.

Kathy Relleen Evans from CARE International was the panel leader, and she led participants and panellists through thought-provoking discussions. Foremost is that aid effectiveness encompasses a range of issues from the professionalization of humanitarian actors, to good donor practices and principles, and even codes of conduct for the provision of aid. Also, in partnerships, strengthened coordination, leadership, and humanitarian financing and accountability are required.

Panelists at the humanitarian effectiveness theme address the audience.
Panelists at the humanitarian effectiveness theme address the audience.

The programmatic, organizational, funding and behavioral changes required to enhance accountability of people receiving humanitarian aid were among key issues discussed. According to Nicolas Seris of Transparency International, “Corruption remains one of the biggest challenges faced in humanitarian work, be it monetary or not, where there is diversion of funds for purposes other than the initially intended.”

The discussion was pegged on research findings conducted by Transparency International and learning institutions in 2011. The research revealed that a lot of work is yet to be done at both programmatic and organizational levels in order to promote accountability and improve effectiveness. “Organizations need to undertake capacity building for their staff to familiarize them with standard operation procedures with service providers as well as other partners. This will avoid duplication of aid among agencies and enable provision of speedy information to the disaster afflicted communities,” Seris emphasized.

Furthermore, in order to ensure humanitarian effectiveness, financing has to be sustainable. Remittances are one such means of getting financial independence on a longer-term, and the transparency of this global platform will go a long way to tracing and improving accountability of funds.

These are all ways of re-shaping aid in a way that would potentially overhaul the delivery and reach of aid. Seb Fouqet from the Department for International Development (UKAid) raised the issue of who delivers the aid versus what they deliver, in these proposed new models of aid delivery. “The current aid situation is such that market share has become the driving force behind activities, which should not be the case. Funding levels continue to rise, but do not match the needs of the people. Humanitarian agencies need to support change and encourage innovation.”

Overall, participants suggested that organizations strengthen accountability mechanisms, create channels for feedback from the community, and share their values and codes of conduct with both internal and external stakeholders to provide whistle-blowing platforms that curtail corruption and promote effectiveness. At the same time, corruption cases have to be properly investigated and sanctioned, while recognizing and rewarding accountability champions.

Participants also acknowledged that aid beneficiaries are no longer passive audiences but are now active recipients. Due to globalization, beneficiaries are now pursuing aid rather than waiting for it to get to them. This should prompt agencies to embrace this changing environment and reshape aid delivery, by delivering both humanitarian and development assistance that will bring together the varying spheres of protracted crises. Therefore in order to promote humanitarian effectiveness, the delivery model needs to be rethought in terms of who is best placed to deliver and what options will provide the most effective response.

Exploring Aid Reach in Conflict-Afflicted Areas

The United Nations reports that complex emergencies in conflict stricken countries are a constant, necessitating a new approach to humanitarian aid. Of the 96 billion dollars given as humanitarian aid, 83 billion is allocated to emergency response, which can expedite this shift.

One of the issues that complicate emergencies, as noted by Amnesty International, is the violation of human rights. They recognize that barely any victims are protected from their perpetrators. “Assessing and assisting the victims of human rights violations is particularly difficult as they (victims) fear sharing information, have contradicting information and have strict communal rules on confidentiality,” said Elizabeth Deng from Amnesty International.

But human rights are not the only violations seen during conflict. The dynamic political arena and a disconnect between grassroots needs and humanitarian actors objectives are also contributors to ineffective assistance to communities affected by conflict. Therefore, what humanitarian interventions can agencies really provide? How far should, and can they go?

Dr Philip Njuguna, from Daystar University suggests a framework that may guide humanitarian agencies when working in conflicted areas. His approach entails using four principles – comprehensive, context-specific, preventive, and empowerment – to guide humanitarian organizations meet their objectives in such situations.

Another proposal from the Children Peace Initiative was to use the trans-generational gap approach, which focuses on building relationships between children who in turn change the perspectives of their parents. This approach has been used amongst the Pokot and Samburu communities of Kenya, who often clashed but are now co-existing.

Dr Pascal Daudin from ICRC addresses participants at the serving people in conflict panel session.
Dr Pascal Daudin from ICRC addresses participants at the serving people in conflict panel session.

“Diversity is not a curse, merely it is the best way to address adversity,” said Dr. Pascal Daudin of International Committee of the Red Cross. This means that our differences ought not to act as a limitation, but rather as a stage that brings together different perspectives to solving the problems. By example, South Sudan aid agencies and workers receive inaccurate information from locals due to limited freedom of expression within the conflicting factions.

In conclusion, various speakers acknowledged that there are certain limitations to delivering sustainable humanitarian aid and peace building. The pertinent issue being creation of peace building mechanisms such that after they respond to a conflict there is a mechanism they ought to set in place that ensures the sustainability of peace.

Mitigating Emergencies from Climate Shocks in Eastern Africa

Participants listen in at the session on reducing vulnerability to climate shocks.
Participants listen in at the session on reducing vulnerability to climate shocks.

At the session on the reducing vulnerability to climatic shocks, discussions revolved around the need to put in place long term mechanisms to mitigate climate change effects using a holistic approach. The Eastern Africa region is particularly susceptible to climate change effects, and frequent complex crises make it even more difficult for humanitarian organizations to deliver aid. The current South Sudan conflict for example, is worsened by the onset of drought during emergency.

Maina King’ori, the panel lead, posed several questions to participants and panelists alike, on how to best tackle these dual disasters: why is the Eastern Africa region so vulnerable? Are there countries in the region that have been able to mitigate climate change risks successfully? With the ongoing climatic changes, will we have a continent relying on agriculture in decades to come?

The participants responded to these questions in a lengthy interesting discussion. “One of the reasons East Africa is vulnerable is due to poverty. We need not wait for the ‘CNN effect’ for money to be released. It is far cheaper to mitigate climate shock at the onset of early warnings,” said IGAD’s Abdi Shakur.

Other participants pointed that government and humanitarian organizations need to heed to early warnings on time, and that the latter should be accorded sovereignty to conduct education on early warnings; while the former need to mobilize national resources for early action.

“In Kenya, the private sector has stepped in to provide livestock insurance to pastoralist communities. This involves having pastoralists contribute premiums to insurance companies, and when the need arises, the pastoralists receive compensation from losses caused by climatic shocks such as drought,” said Irene Karani, Director of LTS Africa. This partnership plays a great role in risk transfer for the pastoralists, but also has some limitations, in that is does not cater to other losses such as insufficient produce, late rains, and pests.

Furthermore in the discussions, participants suggested that agro-pastoralists receive advice on significant climate changes from actors, as early warnings lead to early action. Humanitarian actors need to move from provision of emergency aid to mitigating risks and vulnerabilities of agro-pastoralists, which ultimately reduces the cost of assistance.

Finally, communication on early warnings and climatic changes should be provided using means that are accessible to agro-pastoralists. Moreover public- private partnerships are encouraged to reduce risks as well as include various actors in aid delivery.

By Phoebe Maina/Translators without Borders

How can we Secure Pastoralism as a     Sustainable Source of Livelihood?

Pastoral communities in East Africa are no strangers to what it means to be geographically, economically and politically marginalized, so it should have come as no surprise that only a tenth of nearly 200 participants were present at the sustainable pastoralism development theme discussions. And though the topic may not appeal to many, its significance to the lives of more than 20 million people who rely on pastoralism as their main source of livelihood in sub-Saharan Africa warrants its exclusive and explicit discussion.

As we heard from the panelists, isolation, under-development, drought, disease, famine, and conflict are terms that are all too often associated with pastoralism. “Poverty and vulnerability to many hazards is the order of the day,” stated Prof China, from Masinde Muliro University.

The four panelists at the Sustainable Pastoralism Development theme address participants.
The four panelists at the Sustainable Pastoralism Development theme address participants.

So how do we start to flip that around? Although only part of the answer, panelists agreed that education has a key role to play, given the huge needs in arid and semi-arid lands, where pastoralism predominates. For Vanessa Tilstone, a conference participant, “there really needs to be a push, and an acceptance of different approaches and different ways of delivery. [Lack of education] is a fundamental block to resilience building and development.”

In Kenya’s Wajir and Mandera counties, for example, female literacy rates are as low as 8% and 6%, respectively. That figure is shocking in a country that pride’s itself for its free primary education, but as Degan Ali, Adeso’s Executive Director explained, “there’s no such thing are free-primary education in Kenya’s arid lands.” In order to retain and give incentives to teachers, parents end up paying out of their pocket for salaries, in addition to what they already pay for school uniforms and supplies.

Panelists’ views differed on whether the focus should be on primary or tertiary education, but there was wide agreement on the need for an education model that responds to community needs. Solutions put forward included mobile schools, flexible curricula, vocational training, low cost boarding schools, school feeding programs, and open and distance learning programs, among others.

Beyond education, two other key themes emerged from the discussions. First is the fact that contrary to what many might think, pastoralism is a viable production system, provided that the right policy environment, incentives and investments are in place. “Pastoralism, explained Degan Ali, “is the most efficient use of arid and semi-arid lands.”

Second is the fact that current structures and institutions, whether put in place by governments, the private sector, or the non-profit sector, are often ill suited to pastoralists’ needs. Policies, for example, have often focused on settling communities whose nomadic nature is in fact much better suited to the climates in which they live, shifting locations based on availability of water and pasture.

Although there are no quick fixes, the panel discussions set the scene for the next day’s discussions. Panelists also planted the seeds of some of the things that need to happen concurrently in order to foster sustainable pastoralism development, including infrastructure development, education, private sector investment, accountable governments, respect for customary practices, and an integrated approach to land-use management that takes into account the wider ecosystem.

By Anne-Marie Schryer-Roy/Adeso

Etching out Education Options for Aid Workers

As the five plenary sessions held parallel preliminary discussions on September 16, the tutelage theme: addressing education needs for humanitarians brought together a rich blend participants from UN agencies to NGOs and more importantly, academicians. They took an in-depth look at the relevant programmes available for those in the humanitarian sector, and the challenges faced by staff and students alike.

The University of Nairobi, one of Kenya’s largest, offers a Master of Education course in education during emergencies. It is a two-year programme carried out through course work and field research. The university aspires to be a hub of expertise in the region for education on emergencies, as its course is now recognized by the United Nations. Similarly, the International Red Cross Society (ICRC) also runs a professional course for humanitarian workers, donor agencies, policy makers, senior NGO officials, UN agencies and government officials. “The course is available to those who would like to build their capacity on International Humanitarian Law,” said Prof Umesh Radam from ICRC.

Once the availability of these and other courses was established, participants shared their ideas on how best to improve them, to ensure they are relevant in the fast-evolving humanitarian sector. “I find that courses run by or partnering with humanitarian and development actors tend to be more rigorous and useful to the students. However, working collaboratively with several organisations sometimes has problems as the different partners have different objectives. This can be refined by developing an up to date all round curriculum, in due time,” said Hannah Uprichard from Save The Children. In addition, other handicaps identified in the academic market include the high cost of courses, as well as the inability to transfer credits from one institution to another.

Hellen Nyangoya of UNICEF added that, “Building the capacity of people nationally and regionally should be a priority so that when emergencies occur, staff from different countries do not have to be brought in to deal with the situation.

The local humanitarian sector needs to be professional. In fact, UNICEF is so keen on that, it’s supporting an 18-month post-graduate programme set to kick off in January 2015, at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa.” During this course, students will spend six to eight weeks with child protection agencies as work placement for the programme.

As the session came to close, participants questioned how success would be measured in this deliberate effort to educate humanitarians. It was established that, as a matter of principle, the quality of assistance that the public is receiving should be the base line. In addition, courses and trainings developed ought to be sustainable enough to demonstrate their impact. Finally, it was suggested that institutions provide courses from the undergraduate level so as to nurture upcoming humanitarians, rather than starting off with graduate school courses and professional practitioners’ programmes.

By Gacheru Maina/ACORD

Demystifying and Diversifying Humanitarian Partnerships

There is no silver bullet solution to sustainable humanitarian assistance within Africa; but instead, a collection of efforts to curb and mitigate crises and disasters are needed. This was one of the key messages highlighted by speakers during the opening session of the Humanitarian Partnership Conference 2014, running from 16 – 18 September in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference, whose theme is addressing humanitarian crises in Africa through partnership, seeks to find ways of including various actors in society to deliver sustainable aid and assistance to those afflicted by these crises.

In his keynote speech, Dr Abbas Gullet, exemplified how the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) uses a multi-player three-pronged approach to deliver aid and mitigate the effects of disasters on communities. “We seek to ensure there’s accountability and good governance in what we do; be the first in and last out during emergency; and these we try to do through sustainable funding ventures such as the chain of hotels opened in the last few years. The profits from these are channeled to KRCS projects that are mainly implemented by volunteers,” he said. Dr.Gullet encouraged non-profits, corporates and the Kenyan citizenry to get involved in humanitarian assistance, as they have in the past.

Dr Abbas Gullet during his keynote address at the Humanitarian Partnership Conference 2014.
Dr Abbas Gullet during his keynote address at the Humanitarian Partnership Conference 2014.

Similarly, speaking on behalf of Ms Ann Waiguru, Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, Mr Salim Ali Mola highlighted the need to strengthen peoples’ ability to survive climate-induced disasters and reduce their vulnerability, especially in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs).  “Currently, an estimated 1.6 million people are facing starvation in ASALs in Kenya, due to climate change and other disasters that have occurred in the country. Therefore, I call to members of relief organizations, who can implement policies and strategies aimed at managing disasters to continue to provide support to victims of such disasters.”

During the early morning sessions, a partnership was defined as a working relationship that co-shares risks and benefits. This brings about varying dilemmas and opportunities to all actors. In her presentation, Catherine Russ of the Partnership Brokering Association delved further into the key dilemmas. Foremost was the increased pressure on NGOs to partner, in order to solve humanitarian crises; secondly is the diversity in sectors, cultures and values of the various organizations (in partnership) that brings about a gap in the communication amongst NGOs; and finally, assumption of academic versus humanitarian realities.

This discussion paved the way for five topical panel discussions running concurrently, throughout the rest of the conference. These are (i) sustainable pastoralism development; (ii) reducing vulnerability to climate shocks; (iii) serving the needs of people in conflict; (iv) addressing the education needs for humanitarians; and (v) humanitarian effectiveness.

As these panel sessions intensify discussions, participants at the conference recognize that the conventional structures of humanitarian assistance cannot be the sole channel of meeting humanitarian aid goals, but instead reducing vulnerability and increasing sustainability need to be high on the agenda of all the actors.


11 thoughts on “HPC 2014

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s