Guest editorials: World Humanitarian Summit — a big deal for humanity?

Guest editorials

World Humanitarian Summit: a big deal for humanity?

Merewalesi Nailatikau
Youth commission chair, Fiji Red Cross Society

I was quite proud of the Movement’s position at the Summit, particularly with its emphasis on human dignity and the idea of ‘intervention as local as possible, as international as necessary’ as well as our message concerning the humanitarian ‘eco-system’, that there is not one humanitarian system but rather many different systems and approaches. This helped sharpen people’s understanding that the Movement, with its Fundamental Principles and its way of working, must keep its own distinct approach even as it works alongside other large humanitarian systems.

Also, the Movement made its position on the importance of localizing the response very clear — something that was not otherwise given enough prominence at the Summit.

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There were also some concrete achievements that particularly impact smaller National Societies. The signing of the Youth Compact in Humanitarian Action at the Summit could help us get governments in the Pacific to recognize the role of youth in humanitarian action. These compacts and international agreements, signed in cities far away, are valuable to small National Societies because they give an opportunity to approach international development agencies for partnering.

The Summit was also a chance to share some concrete examples of what local, community and youth-led action looks like. For example, I was on a panel on ‘Youth as First Responders’ and was able to speak about the Fiji Red Cross’s role in dengue prevention in which 136 volunteers reached 84,000 people with medical referrals, public health materials and mosquito-breeding prevention measures. It shows how if you invest in volunteers and give them appropriate training — in both activity-specific tasks and administrative support, so they contribute to reporting, budgeting, etc. —they can take these skills with them anywhere. But they stay in community so other actions can continue. The Fiji Red Cross is also involved in a partnership in which we employ branch administrators to help put sustainable, uniform systems in place so they can access resources in more direct way and develop their own stewardship of branch resources.

Photo: Shawn Michienzi

Frehiwot Worku
Secretary General, Ethiopian Red Cross Society

The World Humanitarian Summit was about delivering together — donors and humanitarian organizations — and coordinating our humanitarian response, while at the same time expanding the capacities of local organizations such as National Societies. This makes a lot of sense because if National Societies are more effective, donors will also be more supportive. But we all must be part of building that system together, and it is not just about money. Sometimes, it’s expertise that is required. We may need partners to embed within a National Society, to accompany them in developing organizational systems so they can manage the monitoring and reporting requirements of donors. In the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, meanwhile, we have to be able to compromise and get out of our comfort zone to engage with others more than we do. We are different from other humanitarian actors but we can create bridges to connect with them and expand our impact.

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I have been thinking about the Summit since I joined the Movement (after working in the airline industry) because I am always thinking about effectiveness, efficiency and impact. People think these are business terms but humanitarian work in many ways has to be managed like a business. Effectiveness and efficiency are things that businesses require in terms of value for money, in order to survive and compete. In the case of humanitarians, we are looking at value for impact in the community. We don’t make a profit but we can increase our impact if we manage ourselves effectively. The Summit is a step in the right direction because if we can collaborate and coordinate our contributions, then we become much more efficient and effective.

Photo: Anteneh Aklilu

Georges Kettaneh
Secretary General, Lebanese Red Cross

The Humanitarian Summit was much more than just a two-day meeting for 9,000 people. It began long before with preparatory meetings, including here in Lebanon. Whatever impact will be felt will go on well into the future. In theory, the pledge to develop longer-term financing and give more support to local organizations was very positive. But now we have to see how it will work at the local level. For me, the measure of success will be in how well we manage to build the capacity of principled local organizations such as National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies which have community acceptance and are there to respond over the long term.

At the Lebanese Red Cross we understand this well. The Syrian crisis has lasted more than six years now and we have been going full-speed ahead since the beginning. We ramped up our response and our capacity in order to maintain the intensity of our response.

Before the conflict, the annual budget for our headquarters in Beirut was US$ 5 million. Today, it’s more than US$ 25 million. We grew our capacity to manage and control these resources by working with our partners. This is critical because strong, accountable and transparent organizations are more accepted by the community.

Our operational capacity has also expanded dramatically. The Lebanese Red Cross is leading and working with 21 National Societies, the IFRC and the ICRC. We are also sharing leadership in a lot of areas — health, nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene promotion — and it’s a big challenge. It’s not just about responding but about working in complementary ways with government and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

It’s very important that donors and partners understand all this. International NGOs can leave when they run out of money but we are still here, facing the community. So we have to be very clear in our plans and commitments so we can manage the expectations of communities and expand or reduce programmes or staff and volunteers in a proper and dignified way. The commitments made at the Summit to provide longer-term funding and more unearmarked funding could help foster this kind of stability, reliability, continuity and dignity both for the dedicated first responders and for the people to whom they are offering their comfort, care and support.

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We also have to be sure that the commitment to give greater resources to local organizations does not lead to a repetition of unsuccessful aid patterns. The problem with some local organizations and National Societies is that they do not know how to say ‘no’ to funding when it’s offered. This can lead to National Societies expanding or contracting in ways that aren’t healthy for the organization. It becomes more of an implementer of projects rather than a strong, independent organization.

When a National Society has a clear vision, when it’s well connected to all branches and when it has transparent systems for recruiting volunteers and maintaining safe access to all communities, then it will not say ‘yes’ to everything. Rather it will do what it can according to the capacity of the volunteers and workers and how much they can absorb.

But it’s also important for the Movement, for National Societies, to use the Summit as an opportunity for their own self-improvement, so that they are well positioned to be the local providers of choice for donors and new partners. It is absolutely critical, for example, that National Societies go through the IFRC’s [Organizational Capacity Assessment and Certification] self-review process, which helps them take stock of their strengths and weaknesses. They should also conduct a thorough review of the internal statutes and national legislation that define their internal decision-making structures and their role in their countries so that there are clear understandings and rules vis-à-vis government. This clarity helps National Societies maintain independence and operate in accordance with principles.

These important steps will ensure that principled, locally rooted National Societies are able to play their role in the increased localization of humanitarian assistance that we hope to see in the future.

Photo: Lebanese Red Cross

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