More on the World Humanitarian Summit: it’s up to us.

I just posted this blog on Plan International’s website. It’s an update on preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit. It’s up to us to make it work.

The message from Kathmandu

The writing’s on the wall in Kathmandu

I’ve been working with the World Humanitarian Summit team over the last year, preparing for the huge summit looming in Istanbul next May. The whole process has its ups and downs. But it remains a unique opportunity to drive real progress in the sector. And we all have a role to play in making it succeed.

From a meeting in Berlin last week, it looks like the summit team will have to focus on headline reforms that need political commitment at the highest level. These are areas like: working out a new deal for hosting refugees, localising leadership for humanitarian action and global leadership for innovation or work in urban settings.

Engaging communities

Many of Plan International’s core concerns are also gaining attention, like working for and with women and girls, improving education in emergencies and empowering young people to play a substantial role in humanitarian action. There is a huge focus on a ‘people-centred approach’. I’ve been working on community engagement during humanitarian action. Look out for this and more in the forthcoming synthesis report on its way any day.

Earlier this week, I was at a conference in Manchester, organised by the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute and Save the Children. One of the stand out moments came from Alex Betts of Oxford University. He’s also been closely involved in preparing for the summit.

He raised thoughtful concerns about how the summit’s emerging recommendations are taking shape. How much do they reflect the vast consultation that has taken place; and how much have they been constrained by political considerations within the UN? His purpose was clearly constructive, to encourage greater transparency and a more successful summit.

Another highlight was a discussion about the new Humanitarian Quality Assurance Initiative*. There are so many important ways that humanitarian assistance could be assessed, to drive real change. But none of them are about certifying organisations! For instance, could the new body represent the voices of affected people, at the highest levels?

Concrete steps

I spoke on “improving community engagement in humanitarian action”. My speech drew on many of the submissions made to the summit’s consultation. I outlined why progress has not reached our aspirations in recent decades, and proposed an initial agenda to address the barriers and improve how agencies inform, listen and respond to the people they aim to help.

The key points are:

  • One of the major barriers is the contract culture that dominates field operations, focused on winning and delivering grants, but delivering limited accountability for results.
  • Progress depends on creating an enabling environment that actively rewards thoughtful community engagement, rather than squeezing out space for it.
  • This can be done by: establishing a demand-led approach at the highest levels; building on good practices in carrying out and funding field work; and enhancing accountability at the highest levels.
  • Practical proposals are suggested to address each of these. They include: investing in leadership, using common platforms, reforming reporting processes and developing a revised Humanitarian Response Index.

I ended by calling for others, outside the summit team, to stand up and take on leadership on issues we all care about. There’s a golden opportunity to refine the agenda, build support for it, and turn it into concrete commitments that will change practice. No one else is going to do this: it’s up to us.

I was delighted that this resonated in the conference hall. I hope Plan International can continue to play a role in promoting real changes, with others, for the sector as a whole. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch to discuss this further. Together we can #reshapeaid.

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