Letting Go of Power and Control (in humanitarianism)


In the context of humanitarianism, a more modern humanitarian action requires letting go of power and control by the formal Western-inspired system. There should be an intentional ceding of power and resources to those currently at the margins of the formal system.

This mindset shift should follow with practical changes that include:
1. UN agencies and large INGOs reorienting their activities away from direct implementation and taking on a more enabling role. Such a shift would support national and local organizations to undertake crisis response roles on their own. This requires channelling funds to and rewarding staff for collaborating with local organizations.

2. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the humanitarian system’s high-level coordination body, should enlarge its membership to include non-traditional organizations and decentralize leadership and strategic-level decision-making to those closer to crises.

Part of Solution

  • A Three-point Proposal to Change the Humanitarian system

  • Additional Information

    Action Items from pp. 70 + 71 of HMG's report, "Time to Let Go"

    Recast the role of large humanitarian organizations based on the principle of ‘subsidiarity’

    UN agencies and large multi-mandate NGOs should reorient their strategic priorities away from direct implementation and service delivery and towards a more enabling function that incubates and funds national and local organizations in preparedness, assessment and service delivery functions. This requires changing funding models and incentive structures to reward collaboration, collective effort and positive outcomes for communities. It also requires a significant cant increase in investment in local organizations’ capacity strengthening and skills development, as well as reorienting partnerships from transactional arrangements to longer-term and strategic alliances. The executive boards of these organizations should help drive this shift through longer-term and more flexible funding and by establishing targets and monitoring performance towards this goal. Large humanitarian agencies and organizations also need to establish
    and more clearly articulate their strategic advantages and distinctive competences vis-à-vis smaller, more specialized local actors. This might include strengthening critical common services (e.g. needs assessments, information and data management, policy development, advocacy and logistics) and retaining an international standing capacity for emergency response to support speed and scale as a provider of last resort when needed.

    Reform the IASC
    The IASC should lead this mindset shift by enlarging its membership to include non-traditional organizations in order to counter perceptions of the humanitarian sector as a Western-led club. It should also reform its structures and practices to decentralize leadership, policy development and strategic-level decision-making to actors and institutions closer to crises, ideally at the regional level.


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