India hub representative presenting during Hub Connect 2024

Hub Connect 2024 - A Milestone in Locally Led Humanitarian Efforts

A reflection by Sudhanshu S. Singh of Humanitarian Aid International and Revathi Ramkumar of the India Humanitarian Hub on the recent Hub Connect 2024 in Kathmandu, Nepal


Time to read: 5 minutes

Much has been talked about, particularly since the World Humanitarian Summit held in 2016, to strengthen the locally led humanitarian system, but scant concrete efforts have been made in this direction. However, Start Network’s hub development plan, currently being implemented in 10 countries across the Global South, is a remarkable headway in this direction. In addition to providing handholding support throughout the year to local leaders at the country level to steer the process of hub development, Start Network also brings local leadership together for idea exchange and mutual learning once every year through Hub Connect conference.

The most recent Hub Connect, the fourth in the series, was held from 20-24 May 2024 in Kathmandu, Nepal. Hub Connect 2024, which brought together 35 participants from nine hubs and the Start Network colleagues provided a useful platform for all to retrospect on the growth journey, introspect on the process to chalk out the most effective prospects for the hubs which play appropriate roles in their respective contexts while having synergy with each other and in sync with the global strategy of Start Network.

There is a fundamental problem with some of the Northern-led discourses, i.e., often such discourses remain theoretical, recycled event after event, remain largely uninformed of ground realities and thereby hardly change much in practice. However, the format of the Hub Connect substantially addressed this limitation. The five-day-long event provided sufficient time to identify barriers and plan strategies to address them. This was also an assembly of senior leadership and young professionals with varied experience, therefore, an opportunity for mutual learning and tapping young leadership.

Most of the localisation discussions have also been dominated by international actors with token representations of local actors. They remain present there without enough power to influence the discourse. Hub Connect was a significant departure from this flawed approach, where local actors dominated the discussions, shared their challenges and planned strategies to overcome them. This approach needs wider replication for a systemwide change. Local actors need to speak for themselves while having empathetic ears from international actors. Start Network has led by example, to be followed by others.

Since the hubs operate in their unique contexts, facing different challenges, the growth of every hub hasn’t been the same in the last five years. Given that, Hub Connect 2024 was an opportunity for sharing best practices to learn from each other. As a spin-off, the conference also helped promote the South-South dialogue which is in tandem with the changing global scenario.

Most of Start Network's fund utilisation was done through international members in the initial years, which has to be changed as hubs increasingly seek independence and make their own decisions to facilitate locally-led humanitarian action. Start Network has been consistently working to shift this power so that the decisions are made closer to the context through hubs. This paradigm will also optimise resource utilisation through cost efficiency and strengthen the nexus approach while ensuring the institutional strengthening of smaller local organisations. The five days of Hub Connect 2024 helped to make significant progress in that direction.  

A special initiative was introduced during the conference: the Hub Health Check system, a peer hub accountability mechanism. This initiative helps the hubs track their journey on the right path towards independent functioning. The "Hub Health Check" initiative promises to provide regular assessments and feedback mechanisms for hubs, ensuring continuous improvement hence localizing accountability.

Hub Connect was an opportunity for humanitarians from diverse backgrounds to engage with each other and learn from leaders and experts while exchanging their views as equals. A feeling of constructive competition has strengthened among hub representatives to fast-track their move towards independence and excel in the locally led humanitarian system in their unique context.

Overall, Hub Connect 2024 was a resounding success, providing a rich platform for learning, collaboration, and innovation. The event underscored the importance of a holistic approach to hub growth and the value of a collaborative learning ecosystem. Greater impacts can certainly be ensured by sustaining the momentum.

While moving forward, the following points can be considered:

  • The hubs have unique positions of presenting themselves as a credible intermediary platform. Increasingly, more and more donors are looking for such platforms to work on localisation and facilitate locally-led development.
  • There is a need to accelerate the shift from funding to financing. While short-term funding is good for addressing unmet humanitarian needs, the smaller Start Network members need to acquire enough institutional competence to absorb and utilise short-term funding efficiently. Given that, the hubs are uniquely placed to work on institutional strengthening of member organisations.
  • There is a need to depart from ‘projectisation’ and ‘monetisation’ of the humanitarian sector, so that hubs are led by ideas and transformational changes. To do that, the Hubs and Start Network can be more disruptive for a system-wide change.
  • Start Network is uniquely placed to facilitate the integration of local voices on global platforms. Most of the global platforms discuss localisation without meaningful participation from local actors. This needs to change.
  • The establishment of hubs has already been a disruptive activity from Start Network. However, every hub faces unique challenges and barriers in its context. Given that, Start Network needs to provide tailored support to each hub.

A journey has begun well to give the desired meaning to localisation and locally led humanitarian system. We have seen several global processes ending without changing much. The hubs provide a unique opportunity to give direction to others.

Hopefully, we will be celebrating much more accomplishments during the Hub Connect 2025.