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Parts of the aid system just don’t work – the dismal cycle of humanitarian response

Duncan Green's picture

Every now and then an email stops me in my tracks, reminding me that Oxfam is stuffed full of bright, motivated, altruistic people. Here’s one I got a few weeks ago from Debbie Hillier, one of our Humanitarian Policy Advisers, in response to my request for thoughts on the state of the aid business. Her views are fleshed out in ‘A Preventable Crisis’, a new report published this week:
 

"Hi Duncan,

Here is a current example of how the aid system doesn’t work.

El Niño events and other droughts are forecast months in advance.  There is of course some uncertainty in the forecasts, but nonetheless, there is often a high probability of a natural hazard.  And with major droughts/El Niño/La Niña, these can affect many millions of people.

So there are situations of high probability and high impact – like the current El Niño.  And these are situations where we know what the solutions are. There are far fewer complicating political factors than in conflict – we know what to do.

If this was the private sector, there would be a significant response at this point. However the aid system does not work like this.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

Malala Strikes Back: Behind the Scenes of her Fearless, Fast-Growing Organization
Fast Co.Exist
After Pope Francis finishes his opening remarks at the UN General Assembly, the room’s attention quickly begins to stray. Colombian pop star and UNICEF ambassador Shakira launches into a well-intentioned rendition of "Imagine," but the gathered heads of state begin to twist in their seats in conversation and mill in the aisles. Then the song ends, and a gentle but firm voice calls down from the upper mezzanine balcony, cutting through the buzz of distraction. "Before I start, may I ask for some quiet. Please pay attention to what youth is asking here."  Chastened, the world leaders take their seats. In elegantly simple language, 18-year-old Malala Yousafzai implores the adults below—who have convened to adopt a series of development goals for the world’s most underserved communities—to follow through on their promise to deliver free, safe, quality education for children across the globe.

Five reasons funding should go directly to local NGOs
Guardian
A cohort of small villages comes together to lobby for protection of a local forest upon which they depend. A group of church women gather under a tree to plan for how they will get orphaned children back into school. A self-help group forms a cooperative to get better prices for their products. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah’s discussion of why donors seem unable or unwilling to directly fund local organisations like these was certainly indicative of the international aid and philanthropy world. As he also mentioned, there is a growing community of international small grantmakers that know how to find and fund effective grassroots initiatives. Here’s why we focus our efforts on getting funding down to local NGOs

Accessing the Inaccessible

Adam Smith International's picture

Despite insecurity, development must continue. But how can donors be confident their money is well spent if locations are inaccessible?
 
Last month, insurgents killed more than 60 people in north-east Kenya. This is only the latest in a wave of violent incidents heightening insecurity along the remote Somali-Kenyan border.
 
The north-east is one of the poorest regions in Kenya. Weak infrastructure and limited public services are exacerbated by banditry and insurgency. The national primary school enrolment rate is over 90%, but in the north-east it is below 40%.
 
It is clear that despite insecurity, development and investment must continue. But how can donors be confident their money is well spent if locations are inaccessible to most implementing partners? If donors can’t see results, they are unlikely to reinvest.