I have recently started a new job with the International Rescue Committee, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that specialises in humanitarian aid in countries affected by conflict and natural disasters.
Coming back to the humanitarian sector after over a decade, I am struck to find that many discussions about the efficiency and effectiveness of aid replicate what has been said in development circles for years. One issue in particular is at the heart of discussions old and new: the challenge of ‘localising aid’, that is, helping local civil society organisations to better respond to a crisis through increased capacity and more direct funding from donor governments. Having agreed globally in 2016 that we should indeed localise aid, the humanitarian community is now tackling the big question: are we seeing any real change?
The development literature of the 1980s and 1990s gave considerable attention to participation in development – engaging local people, the “beneficiaries”, in decisions relating to their own development. This school of thought quickly drew criticism as the question was asked: what are they participating in? Of course, the answer was frequently that participation was little more than mobilising people in implementing an outside agenda, however well-meaning that may have been.
It has already been a year since the adoption of the “Grand Bargain”, a global agreement made at the World Humanitarian Summit to save up to a billion US dollars over five years by reducing inefficiencies in how humanitarian aid is provided. How well are we doing? Are things actually changing where they are supposed to? Is humanitarian aid becoming more efficient and effective?
I continue to explore how developing countries go about increasing their tax revenues as a way to escape from poverty, reducing the need for aid and other forms of international co-operation. In jargon, we call these efforts domestic resource mobilisation. This time I have spoken with Huong Nguyen, Non-Executive Director of the Vietnam Initiative Social Enterprise (VNI), a leading Vietnamese think-tank based in the country’s capital, Hanoi...
The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit is over, with mixed results. For those, including me, who were hoping the discussion would tackle some of the root causes of humanitarian crises, like the lack of political solutions to fundamentally political problems, the conference was a missed opportunity. At the same time, the summit turned out to be positively surprising, focusing the attention on issues that are normally sidelined in global discussions or, even worse, labelled as ‘charity’.