Photo courtesy of Uttaran

Start Fund Bangladesh leads the way on locally-led humanitarian action

In a recent Desk Review on Enhancing the Potential of Pooled Funds for Localisation (September 2020) conducted by the Grand Bargain Workstream 2 on Localisation, Start Fund Bangladesh (SFB) was held up as a strong example of locally-led humanitarian…


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With the number of disasters and uncertainties increasing due to climate change, the humanitarian system is under considerable pressure. International actors are often hesitant to respond to small and medium-scale disasters that do not make headlines or are “below the radar” due to the lack of available financing, scope and readiness of front-line agencies to access available funding, despite accounting for substantial loss and damage. As a result, local and national actors are often the primary responders in small to medium-scale crises due to their close proximity to affected communities. Yet, many of them are unable to access sufficient funding to support people in need.

In 2016, world leaders and humanitarians from across the globe gathered at the World Humanitarian Summit to agree on how to improve the humanitarian sector, which resulted in the Grand Bargain. The Grand Bargain commits to localisation of the humanitarian system and has communities affected by crisis at its core. The idea is that national and local actors, who are closer to the crises and communities affected should be at the forefront of humanitarian response and receive a much larger share of the available funding directly. Now a programme in Bangladesh is demonstrating how that change can be delivered as the rest of the world lags behind.

In a recent Desk Review on Enhancing the Potential of Pooled Funds for Localisation (September 2020) conducted by the Grand Bargain Workstream 2 on Localisation, Start Fund Bangladesh (SFB) was held up as a strong example of locally-led humanitarian action that exemplifies some of the commitments set out in the Grand Bargain. SFB’s transformative model shows that it is possible to have a more proactive, efficient and locally-led humanitarian sector.

In 2020, 85% of SFB’s funding went directly to local and national organisations (the global equivalent in 2019 was only 0.5%) improving both effectiveness and efficiency. When local organisations take the lead, emergency assistance is reaching communities faster and incurring lesser operations and management costs. Before, it took up to 17 days from when a crisis alert was raised to when affected communities received assistance. Now, it reaches affected communities within 10.34 days on average. In addition, past responses to crises needed 22% of funding to cover operational costs, but by channelling funds directly to local actors, this percentage is now only 16%.

To date, SFB members have implemented 73 projects, allocating £6.85m and reaching more than 750,000 of the most vulnerable people from affected communities. SFB has also championed the unconventional by responding to many underfunded, small to medium-scale crises (such as riverbank erosions, urban fires, measles, and dengue outbreak) as well as supporting regions that are largely populated by ethnic minorities, including tea garden workers in Sylhet and populations in the Chittagong Hill Tract. It also focuses on increasing representation of local and national agencies in decision-making opportunities, while measures are taken to bolster the respective capacity of L/NNGOs to access and manage funds, and improve accountability to affected populations.


Supporting organisational sustainability

Indirect cost recovery (ICR) or non-programme attributable costs (NPAC) have long been charged by NGOs when applying for funds from donors or “fundermediaries”. While INGOs (who usually secure the majority of foreign aid) are able to charge these costs back, national/local NGOs who implement projects by partnering with INGOs have been unable to claim these kinds of unconditional budgets for their organisational sustainability. However, in 2019, three INGO members of Start Fund Bangladesh were able to negotiate with their head offices to enable their local partner NGOs to receive a share of ICR during their response. Local NGOs have also been able to claim a full 10% ICR when funds have been allocated directly to them by Start Fund Bangladesh.

“Both the Country Based Pooled Funds (CBPFs) and Start Fund Bangladesh demonstrate that, when pooled funds make a concerted effort to prioritise L/NAs for funding, they are able to provide significant amounts of funding.” Desk Review on Enhancing the Potential of Pooled Funds for Localisation

“ICR has also been a means of generating more ownership towards our work as this fund can be used to improve capacity of the staff or buy equipment to help them do a better job.” —Hosne Ara Hasi , Chair Executive of Jago Nari


Shifting the power

Start Fund Bangladesh projects have also been led by local organisations, with INGOs as implementing partners. This has resulted in new dynamics, with decision-making spread out among partners and a stronger sense of collaboration during response.

One local organisation that had experience of both INGO-led and L/NNGO-led consortia explained that the relationships are very different when local NGOs take a lead; it allows everyone to work together as equals. Greater transparency around budgets, as well as a concerted effort to strengthen the capacity of smaller members was also an eventual outcome.

Start Fund Bangladesh demonstrates that effective, locally-led humanitarian action is possible. It has not only shown that local actors are best placed to provide fast response to humanitarian crises, but that country-based funding mechanisms like SFB can help make the sector more diverse and inclusive, decentralise decision-making, and foster a sense of collective ownership to address humanitarian crisis.


Start Fund Bangladesh is a civil society managed, £10m rapid emergency response fund that was created in 2017 with support from UK Aid. Modelled on the Start Network’s successful Start Fund, which activates funding within 72 hours of a crisis alert, it fills a crucial gap in global aid funding. The fund is accessible to both national and international member NGOs operating in Bangladesh to respond early to under the radar emergencies.