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Localisation in Covid19 - Experience of Caritas national organisations with humanitarian funding, partnerships and coordination in the Covid19 pandemic

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This document summarises findings from a survey and interviews with over 60 Caritas national organisations regarding their experience of UN agency, donor and INGO approaches to localization in the Covid19 crisis. The main section of this paper is structured around findings on the following issues: Funding; Partnerships; and Coordination; and concludes with recommendations to donors, UN agencies and Caritas confederation members.

National and local faith-based organisations (FBOs), including Caritas national organisations, have played important frontline responder roles in the Covid19 pandemic. Donors, UN agencies and INGOs recognised this at a policy level, and guidance was generated on engagement of faith leaders in critical aspects of the response, like risk communication and community engagement. Yet the international response struggled to translate a recognition of their role into meaningful or at-scale partnership on the ground. As of June 2020, approximately only 1 percent of Covid19 funds channelled through the UN system were reaching national and local NGOs, and a tiny fraction of that reached local FBOs.

Some national FBOs which had longer-term partnerships with UN agencies and institutional donors described positive experiences in terms of negotiating flexibility to pivot programmes towards Covid19 response. However, this was not consistent and this flexibility sometimes came at the cost of cutting into funds for longer-term, underlying humanitarian and development priorities. Likewise, efforts to channel funds to national NGOs through UN country-based pooled funds (CBPF) and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) were appreciated. But only a small number of Caritas national FBOs benefited from the CBPFs, and none benefitted from the CERF NGO grants. Funding from the CERF via UN agencies or INGOs generally frames the local partner as a sub-contractor, and therefore is not framed to promote local leadership of humanitarian action. The UN CBPFs tend to default towards prioritising international agencies as the process is linked to cluster processes in which they dominate, unless deliberate steps are taken to prioritise local actors.

In terms of enabling a timely and effective response, the best experience with quality funding and partnerships was through country-level funding mechanisms, which involve national NGO leadership or co-leadership, including the Start Network and LIFT Fund in Myanmar. Yet institutional donors largely failed to adequately resource these mechanisms. Over the past year, Caritas national organisations have started to see some international partners who receive multi-year, flexible funding passing on benefits from this to them (eg Caritas Denmark as intermediary for Danish funding), but this is not yet the norm.

A significant number of national NGO members of the Caritas confederation criticised the top-down and bureaucratic approach of international agencies to engaging with national NGOs. Mainstream humanitarian agencies prefer national partners that most closely mirror their own institutional form and ways of working, and their partnership approach erodes the character and rootedness of civil society groups in local communities. The approach to risk management appears often more driven by donor and international agencies’ concerns about their own reputation than understanding risks faced by local NGOs and supporting them to manage those risks; supporting survivors of any wrong-doing; or strengthening the quality of assistance to crisis-affected communities.

Overarching recommendations:

  1. Scale-up support to country-level funding platforms that promote local NGO leadership, preparedness and timely funding to frontline responders. Longer-term partnerships before crises occur are essential to enable the potential of local actors across preparedness, resilience and response. NGO-led platforms are best placed to foster holistic approach to institutional and technical sector-specific capacity-strengthening of local NGOs (eg through south/south capacity-sharing and ‘learning by doing’).

  2. Go beyond quantitative tracking of localization to assess the quality of funding and partnerships with local NGOs. Short-term projects, which keep local NGOs trapped into sub-contractor roles, do not foster local leadership or resilience. In protracted crises and beyond the 3-month phase of rapid on-set emergencies, international agencies should be held accountable for effective exit strategies and promoting local leadership of the response. UN agencies & INGOs receiving multi-year funding should be held accountable for cascading the benefits to local partners.

  3. Recognise and address risks faced by local NGOs; including through a fair and consistent global approach to covering the overheads of local NGOs. Longer-term quality funding and country-level platforms, as outlined above, are key to effective partnerships with local NGOs in managing risk. The policies, procedures, training and organisational culture required to manage risk cannot be funded on short-term projects with no overheads support. Zero tolerance for a failure to address wrong-doing should replace the current reactive approach, which centres managing donor reputational risks over addressing risks faced by communities or local NGOs in crisis situations.

  4. Engage diverse local civil society actors, including faith-based organisations, without ‘NGOizing’ them into replicas of international agencies: Priorities to strengthen participation by local actors in coordination and wider inter-agency efforts include addressing language barriers, strengthening sub-national engagement (including through area-based coordination) and establishing more systematic steps across the UN Humanitarian Programme Cycle and coordination structures (ie HCTs, clusters and sector working-groups) to engage a more diverse range of local actors; including local faith groups, women’s rights organisations, disabled peoples organisations and youth networks. National CSO forums should be funded, and INGOs should act as ‘allies’ to national NGOs in coordination processes; including through accompaniment to their participation, information-sharing and profiling their input to joint work, including advocacy.