World Humanitarian Summit: Local civil society is an effective humanitarian actor

by 19th May 2016
People waiting outside a mobile health clinic set up by CARE and local partner organisation Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) at a primary school in Gaza city, August 2014 People waiting outside a mobile health clinic set up by CARE and local partner organisation Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) at a primary school in Gaza city, August 2014

Currently an average of only 0.2% of global humanitarian aid goes directly to local or national NGOs and civil society organisations. Multiple studies have shown that local capacity is often significantly underutilised, undervalued and overlooked by larger international organisations.

CARE’s ability to be one of the first and most efficient NGOs to respond to a disaster is largely due to our long history of working with trusted local partners. There is huge scope right now to grow and to improve national and local response capacity, which often means reaching affected communities with more appropriate assistance, faster. It’s also a critical part of building local resilience and preparedness capacity before a disaster or conflict strikes.  

At the World Humanitarian Summit next week, one of CARE’s commitments is to ensure that, by May 2018, at least 20% of our global humanitarian funding will go to local NGOs across the countries where we are working.

Local partners in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

In the Occupied Palestinian Territories – from where I have just returned after a short visit – we already do this. Is this out of necessity? In part, yes. But it’s also because we believe it is the best way to help Palestinians, and the best way to help Palestinian civil society strengthen its role that complements government and the private sector.

One of those local partners is the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), founded by Dr Mustafa Barghouthi, in the 1970s, with some of his fellow medical graduates.

Responding after the 2014 conflict

CARE has partnered with PMRS for many years. Most recently, we worked with them, with DFID support, to provide mobile health clinics in Gaza during and after the 2014 conflict. Together, we set up mobile health clinics to visit schools and other places where people had sought shelter after being forced to flee their homes.

They also visited families who were unable to get to hospital, managing to see an average of 300 patients per day. The mobile health teams consisted of two general practitioner doctors, one psychosocial worker, three community health workers or nurses, one physiotherapist and one women's health doctor.

A partner perspective

I asked Dr Barghouthi about what it was like to work with international NGOs as partners. He explained that they have already received some of their funding directly from donors like DFID, Sweden, Iceland and Luxembourg. And they received a lot of donations in kind and volunteers from the West Bank to help Gaza during the 2014 conflict. They also work with some international NGOs.

He said some international NGOs, such as CARE and Oxfam, believe in real partnership with local partners. He said some others displace and compete with local organisations. He said CARE and PMRS work together like real partners. We develop strategies and make decisions together. They learn from us. And we are able to share our learning from them with local organisations in many other countries.

A message for the World Humanitarian Summit

The World Humanitarian Summit objective – for donors to pledge that 20% of their funding will go directly to national and local organisations – is a modest start. We can all go further beyond a financial target to work together with local civil society like real partners, developing strategies and making decisions together.

As international NGOs it’s still vital for us to be able to deliver services and being international means we can support existing local capacity with complementary knowledge, skills and resources whenever an emergency breaks. But it is important to continue to listen to local leaders like Dr Barghouthi.

He says it’s not either direct funding or partnership with international NGOs. A mixture of both can be best.

Laurie Lee

I joined CARE in August 2014, because I believe strongly in our focus on economic development, gender equality and people holding governments accountable. My focus at CARE is on ensuring we have the best people to do the job we do, to support our teams on the ground in over 70 developing countries, and to ensure we continuously improve our ability to monitor the impact of our work, and learn how to do it even better.  

Prior to CARE I worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for seven years, advising them on development policy issues in Europe and Africa. Before that I worked for the British government. I managed British development programmes in South Africa and Afghanistan. He worked in 10 Downing Street to prepare the G8 Gleneagles Summit on Africa in 2005. And I ran the DFID Trade Policy Unit until 2008.

One good thing I've read

One of CARE’s goals is to help the 2 billion people – including 1.1 billion women – without access to financial services, to get them. This great and easy book, Portfolios of the poor: How the world's poor live on $2 a day, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven, explains why there’s no such thing as living 'hand to mouth'. The poorer you are, the more you need financial management tools.


Twitter: @lauriejlee