Start Network’s call to action to the new Emergency Relief Coordinator

The new Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), Martin Griffiths, has officially started his role as the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, the most senior humanitarian role at the United Nations. He will be leading the policies and…


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The new Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), Martin Griffiths, has officially started his role as the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, the most senior humanitarian role at the United Nations. He will be leading the policies and strategic decisions of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which will have an impact across the humanitarian sector and the way the sector responds to crises. As humanitarian crises become more frequent, more severe and the amount of protracted crises is on the rise, Start Network continues to advocate for a shift in the outdated and inefficient way the sector responds to crises. We are building a humanitarian sector that is more proactive, locally led, efficient, and that is accountable towards people affected by crises.

That is why we have published an open letter to Martin Griffiths:


Dear Martin Griffiths,

We are Start Network, a global membership of more than 50 local, national and international aid organisations working across six continents and tackling what we see as the biggest problems facing the humanitarian system. Together, our aim is to transform humanitarian action through fast funding, innovation and locally led humanitarian action.

On behalf of Start Network, I would like to congratulate you on your new position as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. Your role is one of great responsibility at a time when humanitarian action is facing challenges to its legitimacy, efficacy, and sustainability.  And yours is a platform of significant power and influence at a time when the humanitarian system has never been more dynamic or diverse.  

As I write in July 2021, I can imagine your inbox is overflowing: conflicts and civil unrest in Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Haiti, rising hunger levels in Yemen and Tigray, long-simmering crises in Syria and South Sudan and dozens of climate-related disasters debilitating communities on any given day. COVID-19 will require sustained action to get vaccines to the poorest and most marginalised and sustained assistance to those already affected. And the second phase of the sector’s Grand Bargain reform agenda is just getting off the ground. With such a to-do list, separating the urgent from the important is no easy task.

Earlier this month, we canvassed our own diverse membership for ideas about what your top priorities as ERC should be. Attached are some of their individual responses and below is my own interpretation and synthesis.

Drive locally led humanitarian action. COVID-19 has demonstrated that local action delivers faster and more contextualised response. Our experience and evidence at Start Network confirms that locally led action is timely, efficient, and well placed to promote contextual, sustainable, and dignified responses in crisis contexts. Locally led action should be the sector’s first response, positioning the international community as enablers, service providers and responders of last resort. We ask that you use your position to put communities at the centre and local organisations in the driver’s seat of decisions of where funding goes and when and to whom. Use your power and platform to advocate with donors and peers for the requisite changes to current incentive structures, funding arrangements and approaches to risk.

Invest in anticipatory action and risk-based financing. The climate crisis has intensified the frequency of natural hazards and given rise to humanitarian needs. These trends can be reversed by anticipating predictable disasters and acting early to protect the most vulnerable from their impacts. Shifting the focus from response to protecting people ahead of shocks, and relying on pre-agreed plans and finance, is a faster, more sustainable, and more cost-effective approach to disasters. While interest and investment in anticipatory action have been increasing in recent years, efforts now need to be scaled up. Local actors need to be at the centre of this work. We ask that you use your position as fund manager of humanitarian financing instruments such as the CERF and country-based pooled funds to help reorient the system’s mindset and ways of working around anticipatory action and support diverse funding channels to bring such actions to scale.

Prioritise civil society solutions. Humanitarian risks and needs are growing, funding remains level and public trust is on the decline. As a sector, we are left trying to do more with less or finding alternate solutions to maintain our effectiveness and legitimacy. Power holders, including donor and host governments and UN agencies recognise that working without civil society, and importantly local civil society, is unsustainable and counterproductive. We need to proactively find ways to meaningfully listen to and learn from civil society movements and initiatives and move away from practices that only pretend to engage local and national perspectives. We need to give space to organisations and initiatives from the global south to be part of the creation, decision making and implementation of the bold vision we set for ourselves. We ask that you use your privileged position as ERC to embed local civil society participation, practices, and perspectives into all forms of humanitarian action. 

Each of the dynamics discussed above will test our systems and challenge your leadership.  All of these dynamics require that you set a clear and bold vision for the future of humanitarian action and apply a leadership style that channels the diversity of today’s humanitarian action toward joint purpose and collective action.

I look forward to working with you on our common endeavour to deliver effective, sustainable solutions for communities at risk of and affected by crises.


Best wishes,

Christina Bennett  
CEO, Start Network


Our global members have also expressed their calls to action and expectations: