Increasing surge capacity through Asia regional platform
Go Team Asia facilitates collaboration between Christian Aid and Muslim Aid in Nigeria
Atif Sohail has more than 9 years of experience in programme management and monitoring and evaluation in emergencies (in Pakistan). Previously he was working with Muslim Aid Pakistan and is now working with Christian Aid to manage their response in Nigeria, through the Go Team Asia shared humanitarian roster.
Finding the right skills for an emergency response
Finding the right people to deploy to manage an emergency response can be difficult for humanitarian organisations, no matter how big or small they are. Staff need to have the right technical skills and sufficient experience. They need to be able to work under pressure in an emergency setting, but also to show cultural sensitivity and adaptation skills to the local context. As a combination of all these traits can be hard to find, collaboration between peer organisations can help NGOs build staff capacity and use existing capacity more efficiently. The regional shared roster Go Team Asia, was established through the Transforming Surge Capacity project. It enables member organisations to share their resources for joint capacity building, a shared roster and inter-agency deployments; a cost-effective way of managing surge capacity.
Since its setup in late 2016, Go Team Asia has focused on sharing technical staff in six specific sectors;
- WaSH (water, sanitation, and hygiene)
- Cash programming
- Emergency food security and livelihoods
- Monitoring Evaluation Accountability and Learning (MEAL)
- Gender protection & inclusion
One of the organisations that benefitted from Go Team Asia is Christian Aid. During its response to Nigeria’s Lake Chad basin crisis, management support was needed fast, and the deployment of Atif through Go Team Asia was agreed within 5 days.
Recognising similarities and benefitting from diversity: lessons from cross-agency deployments
Reflecting on his deployment to Nigeria, Atif tells us that,
“I was able to hit the ground running, despite very little induction.”
Despite differences in Christian Aid’s and Muslim Aid’s organisational mandates, he was able to spot a number of similarities shared within the INGO sector.
“I was able to deal with internal organisational challenges, which I had previously been facing at Muslim Aid and other organisations in Pakistan. Ultimately, even within the same organisation, every country office is different, so deploying across different organisations doesn’t make such a big difference.”
This deployment convinced Atif of the potential for organisations to go beyond technical coordination, and work together in more meaningful collaboration.
“Agencies that have worked together once can keep working together in the future, and they will have a higher chance of getting resources if they are seen to be able to work in close collaboration and coordination.”
Sharing surge capacity enables agencies to move beyond their own organisational standpoint, and think strategically of how surge can be strengthened across the sector. As staff movements are frequent between INGOs, a shared roster means that even when staff leave, their services are still accessible. This was the case of Atif, who had completed his contract with Muslim Aid before he was deployed through Go Team Asia. However, as Muslim Aid is a signatory to Go Team Asia, Atif was able to participate in the joint roster training and to remain under the roster after the end of his contract, before being deployed to Christian Aid.
Cross-regional support for improved response
Go Team Asia was created to harness humanitarian surge capacity within Asia. Despite the roster’s focus on the region, there have been requests for out-of-region deployments, including Atif’s deployment to Africa. Having built all his experience in Pakistan, Atif mentions that this was his first time working in Africa. He realised that the conditions in Nigeria and in remote areas of Pakistan were similar; they had weak infrastructure and similar climate. Most importantly, he shares that “in Nigeria, people are going through a crisis of the same nature as they did in Pakistan, and they react to it in the same way.” In addition, his previous experience in conflict settings proved to be an asset, and he has received positive feedback on his calm and focused approach to the response.
Ultimately, the amount of skills and experience Atif was able to transfer to Christian Aid is significant.
“I have brought methods on how to plan, how to coordinate, how to manage a team,”
He goes on to explain that “I introduced distribution plans and other project management tools to the country team.” His successful deployment therefore shows a case of agencies supporting each other across regions, to fill capacity gaps in a response.
Atif advises other Go Team Asia roster members to “keep their bags ready, as this roster is ready to deliver.” He notices that being part of a shared roster, in addition to his organisation’s internal one, gives more opportunities to deploy into current crises and build experience. The roster indeed gave him an opportunity to show his skill as a humanitarian responder beyond his home country. Atif’s experience thus underlines the importance of rosters such as Go Team Asia not just as a gap-filling mechanism for surge, but also as a tool for professional development of humanitarian staff that are ready to take up regional or global roles.
Although collaboration between Muslim Aid and Christian Aid had positive effects, Atif notes that most organisations do not yet appear to embrace the full potential of sharing resources. They are still ill-prepared to receiving and facilitating deployments, be they internal or cross-agency, and to using collaborative activities to improve their own internal processes. Only once those challenges are overcome, will agencies be able to respond effectively as a sector. With the complexity of humanitarian crises increasing, and no single agency being able to work in isolation, the ability to collaborate may become a defining factor in international NGOs’ ability to effectively respond to future crises.