HNPW 2024 | Accelerating Localised Humanitarian Action: The Role of National Pooled Funds

The localisation of humanitarian action has been the subject of humanitarian policy and practice discussions for more than a decade. In recent years, many governments and donors have reaffirmed their commitments to localisation, including FCDO, USAID and ECHO who have either published or are currently developing guidelines and strategies to realise these commitments. However, despite sector-wide commitments from an array of actors, in reality, very little has changed. 


Time to read: 5 minutes

This session 'Accelerating localised humanitarian action: The role of national pooled funds' explored how pooled fund mechanisms present a pathway to scale up and drive more tangible commitments to locally led humanitarian action. The session focused on four key elements: access to pooled funds; capacity strengthening; equitable partnerships; and effectiveness and efficiency. 

The session was moderated by Elise Baudot Queguiner (Head of Financing at International Council for Voluntary Agencies) and panellists included Dr Shahid Uz Zaman (Executive Director at Eco-Social Development), Karolina Soliar (Advocacy Manager at National Network of Local Philanthropy Development), Alex Gray (Director of International Funds at Center for Disaster Philanthropy), and David White (Pooled Fund Manager at Ukraine Humanitarian Fund, OCHA)

Key Takeaways:

In parallel to the decrease in global humanitarian financing, there has also been a decrease in financing to country-based pooled funds. However, in recent years through pooled funds, there has been an increase in the percentage of funding directly to national partners.

It is generally accepted that pooled funds are a positive vehicle for localisation. INGOs are more critical towards pooled funds compared to national NGOs but there is agreement by all NGOs recipients to advocate for multiyear funding pooled funds. Further, the lack of a clear definition or list of humanitarian pooled funds limits the ability to share best practices and lessons learned throughout the sector.

Some suggestions for improvement from NGOs include elements such as access, capacity strengthening, risk sharing, quality funding and enable nexus and climate financing. In terms of access, the research shows that NGOs are asking for more information, review due diligence barriers, provide proposal feedback, increased transparency. On capacity strengthening, the recommendations focus on proposal feedback and mentorship.

Across academic and grey literature, arguments for localisation are generally categorised into matters of effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. However, a lack of evidence on the impact of localisation limits advocacy efforts for greater locally led action. The humanitarian sector must develop the evidence base on localisation to incentivise a shift in practice.

The challenges faced by national actors to access pooled funds are twofold. First, pooled fund tools and donor processes, especially for eligibility, are more appropriate for assessing INGOs rather than national NGOs. Second, the scale of donor funding can be high and so due to administrative burdens, not all funds can be channelled to national civil society

In Ukraine, we have taken the standard tools used globally and we have contextualised them to the Ukraine context and the context of the national actors who are working here... this has enabled us to onboard and work in partnership with many more national NGOs. There is a piece of work which needs to be done at the local and global level for international actors to re-tool and conceptualise their tools to the context of national actors
David White

There are an increasing number of locally led pooled funds which are governed and run by local NGOs. At this hyper-local level, there is better coordination, community engagement and peer support across NGOs and they can further incorporate more CBOs. 

Capacity strengthening is not only about training or technical assistance, but it is about learning by doing. This includes local NGOs engaging in due diligence processes, being part of the governance structures, and receiving continuous mentorship. 

Capacity strengthening is often defined by the donor, but this does not always match the capacity strengthening needs of the CBOs delivering frontline humanitarian aid. The humanitarian sector should re-think what we mean by capacity and consider not what the donor wants, but what the needs are of the national NGOs.

Initially there was a struggle as local organisations did not know how to raise an alert and submit a proposal to access pooled funds, but through continuous mentorship, the system is changing.
Dr Zaman
I don't like it when people assume national NGOs or local CBOs do not have capacity...(rather) we have a very colonial attitude on what is capacity. Our experience in Ukraine is that, in terms of operational capacity, our national partners are just as strong as our international partners…we need to re-think what we mean by capacity.
David White

There are two forms of partnership when engaging with national pooled funds. First, the partnership between the donor and administrator, and second, the partnership been the administrator and the local NGO. Both of these partnerships can be equitable, but for this to be achieved, all sides must work hard for it. Due to barriers such as technical terminology, the administrator must sometimes take on the role of advocate for the local NGO when in discussions with donors.

Pooled funds are a step towards localisation, but it is not localisation itself because the main goal is not to put the power into the hands of the national actors.
Karolina Soliar

National pooled funds have greater flexibility to focus on and invest in survivor and community led responses, to support programmes that deliver longer-term solutions and address root causes of inequities and vulnerabilities. In contrast, through bilateral donor funding, programmes are often restricted to deliver only short-term life-saving responses.

The design of locally led pooled funds is inherently more equitable as they involve a variety of national actors which represent different groups. In this sense, there is a natural and organic equity built-in.
Alex Gray

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