Preparing For Shock: Day 1 – Accountability deficit, ROI and impossible dilemmas

Project: Learning Project 15th March 2018

The Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme has invested in ways of working and innovative programming for better preparedness and emergency response. This conference is a “great opportunity to talk through how we take this to scale: What are the blockages? What do we need to address? How do we change our organisation and government approach?” – The ‘grandfather of DEPP’ , Dylan Winder from the UK Mission to the UN in Geneva, put it back to the Preparing For Shock conference participants in the Opening Panel.  He was joined by Dr. Meshesha Shewarega from Ethiopia, Ingunn Vatne from the Permanent Mission of Norway, Dr Phoung Pham from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and Sean Lowrie, Director of Start Network, for an engaging discussion on where we are on investing in preparedness and setting the scene with the ‘big picture’.

The points raised were many; from the familiar topic of greater localisation of aid, to the more cumbersome issue of getting tangled in definitions.  It was a thought-provoking panel which left us as participants eager to dive into the big issues – but where to start? It is clear, albeit not easy to put into practice, that decision-making as well as implementation needs to be  localised, but how do you do that while also addressing what Dr Shewarega referred to as the accountability deficit in the global south? And how effective is investment in capacity as a way to increase preparedness?

Applying a business model

In the second session of the day we got technical as we ventured into the field of Return on Investment – is it worth the effort? Lorenzo Newman and Dr Harjinder Kaur from Learn More and PWC shared their early findings from the DEPP-focused ROI study which was followed by a panel discussion, where the audience was quick to pick up both the good and the bad of applying a strict business model to assess humanitarian preparedness and response. With donors focusing more and more on the value for money of interventions, we need to back up our advocacy for investment in preparedness with cold, hard (sterling) facts, but is it bringing us too far into the realms of “profit margins” and are we losing the perspective and interests of affected communities?

“Do you have the capacity to capacitate?”

The general consensus (at least at the Preparing For Shock conference) was that yes, communities are by nature resilient – but at what point should international agencies step back, and what does future interaction look like? This session brought the level of engagement at the conference to an all-time high and was expertly managed by Nick Van Praag from Ground Truth Solutions. It was interesting to see how the session so quickly moved from focusing on community and individual capacity to a general focus on localisation. It proves how important it is to get this right, but we also need to keep sight of the distinctions.

On the question of international agencies stepping back, we have strong advocates for the need to start truly shifting the power in the way we make decisions, fund and implement humanitarian programming. However, Muhammad Amad of the National Humanitarian Network in Pakistan warned international actors of a knee-jerk reaction and abandoning local communities who don’t have their years of learning and expertise: “Local communities still need support from the international community not only financial, but technical. We need to balance the 50 year history of international experience with local wisdom”.

And the topic of mutual trust and respect was a big one. Gone are the days where international agencies can push their ways of working and capacity-strengthening approaches on local and national actors, and also for established organisations to claim to have the best way of reaching the affected population. Smruti Patel from the Global Mentoring Initiative probably said it best when commenting on the relationship and approach of international to local capacity strengthening – do local actors ever ask “do you have the capacity to capacitate us?” – Do international organisations ever ask themselves? It is time we start.

Digging deep

In the last part of the day we split into breakout sessions to explore three major areas, and Michael Mosselmans of Christian Aid probably summed up how we all felt: “Impossible dilemma – simultaneous sessions on inclusion/leave noone behind, women leadership in humanitarian action and survivor led response. Which is more important; inclusion, women or empowering communities?” It became clear that each session was as important and engaging as the other:

In the session exploring women as leaders in preparedness one of the participants, Hamad Latif of Plan International Pakistan, encouraged everybody to support one woman to take up a leadership position. (The session was, incidentally, made up of only 15% men in a conference where just under 50% of the participants were male – be the change we want to see, people?)

Community-led emergency response showed some very telling examples of the great impact and wins we can have when NGOs support and enable community-led emergency response, making it more effective and context-specific – resulting in communities helping themselves and the wider response.

From Promise to Practice explored the more prominent inclusion agenda, and how the Age and Disability Capacity Programme (ADCAP) has been working to move that promise and numerous commitments into practice in humanitarian response. Here, it was interesting to hear from international NGO-staff sharing their journey and own reflections on how their organisational assessments came up short on meeting the inclusion commitments. They did in fact not have the capacity themselves to strengthen that of their local staff and partners, adding a new step to the process. Three years later their tools, guides and practices are helping other international, national and local organisation and partners improve their approaches to inclusive programming.

We  continued the discussions on Day 2 of the Preparing for Shock: Is Preparedness the New Frontier conference – you can find the summary of the day here. Our #PreparingForShock was kicking up a storm, you can see all the tweets from the conference here.



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