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Legacy of the Transforming Surge Capacity project

Two years on the SAFER fund established through the Start Network’s DEPP project continues to support national organisations in the Philippines

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The Transforming Surge Capacity project (TSCP), implemented between January 2015 and December 2017, was one of the Start Network projects supported by the UK's Department for International Development through the Disasters Emergency Preparedness Programme (DEPP).

We asked Pamela Combinido, a local consultant tasked with evaluating the programme in the Philippines, about her involvement in the project and its major achievements.


Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got involved in the DEPP programme evaluation?

I am currently a Research Specialist with World Vision Philippines, recently returned to the Philippines after doing my Masters degree at Cambridge University in Sociology. One of my academic interests is digital media and its impact on society so my Masters thesis was about disinformation in the Philippines. But prior to that, I had been doing research on humanitarian work. Previously I had been working with Plan International Philippines as Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and with the Humanitarian Advisory Group (HAG) as National Consultant, and it was with HAG that I got involved with the DEPP Programme.  I was working with HAG on a project on localisation when the opportunity came up to undertake the DEPP evaluation of the Transforming Surge Capacity Project. This was perfect timing for me as I had just published a research report about local aid workers during Typhoon Haiyan and their struggles due to power disparities and inequalities in the sector.


Can you tell me something about the work you did on the evaluation?

What I like about working with HAG is their approach. They always involve local researchers in the decision-making process so right from the beginning I was on board and driving the methodology for the evaluation, helping design interviews and structured exercises with key informants so that they speak to the local context, and also providing feedback to the TSCP members on the preliminary findings.  The country-level consortium of TSCP had 19 member organisations. Apart from the ten TSC consortium members, 4 international NGOs joined (Oxfam Philippines, World Vision Philippines, Handicap International, HelpAge) and 4 national organisations with networks of local CSOs (CODE NGO, Humanitarian Response Consortium, National Secretariat for Social Action-Caritas, and the National Council of Churches).


Can you talk to some of the key aspects of the TSCP project?

The TSCP project really stands out to me. Its objectives were really clear and specific and its implementation was extremely timely. It wanted to enable more localised and collaborative humanitarian actions and came into being a few years after Typhoon Haiyan where the country experienced a very international response which was neither localised nor collaborative. Expats and INGOs drove the recovery during this crisis and the local organisations felt they were taking the backseat in terms of the surge and the decision-making. Typhoon Haiyan was a major learning point for the sector and many organisations wanted future responses to be different.  So TSCP came in at the right time as the humanitarian sector in the Philippines were really receptive to this idea of collaboration and localisation. Collaboration would mean that INGOs and local organisations would work together, having a connection, rapport and information sharing that would take place not only during times of implementation.

TSCP made an important decision in moving towards localisation. One of the ways they did this was by engaging the four biggest national non-government organisational networks in the Philippines: CODE NGO, Humanitarian Response Consortium, National Secretariat for Social Action-Caritas, and the National Council of Churches. Although these are not the kind of organisations that do emergency response, because they have a field presence and have been doing development work in communities, they also provide disaster relief. So it was important to get their buy-in and their voices right at the start. TSCP, for example, helped train up local organisations in Core Humanitarian Standards which was also a subject of discussion in the Philippines as this was all happening at the same time as the Grand Bargain.

What I also observed is how TSCP moved the discussion on localisation beyond labelling an organization as local or international, but it provided a concrete case of how precisely it could happen – through the different initiatives it started such as PPERR (Philippine Partnership for Emergency Response and Resilience), SAFER (Shared Aid Fund for Emergency Response), and On Call roster.


What do you consider to be the greatest achievements of this project?

So one of the biggest achievements, as I mentioned, was SAFER (Shared Aid Fund for Emergency Response). TSCP recognized that to make humanitarian action more localised, there needs to be a mechanism of providing funding for national NGOs. Most of the local NGOs do not have the same funding opportunities available to international NGOs to do emergency response. When I came to do the evaluation of TSCP the SAFER initiative was just starting, they had not yet registered, but now they are successfully raising funds.  It has been used for Typhoon Mangkhut that caused severe damage in Northern Philippines in September 2018, and in January this year, they were fundraising for Taal Volcano response in Batangas when it hit an alert level 4. So SAFER is really being used and I see this as the most robust and sustainable product of TSCP.

There was also a roster platform that was established called On Call. It was a human resource database of national Filipino workers with different types of expertise. There were 32 organisations who were members of the roster – 14 INGOs, 14 local organisations, 2 professional organisations and 2 consultancies specialising in WASH and shelter – with around 450 listed personnel. The aim was that organisations would look first to the database for a specific skill set – for example, a WASH specialist - before reaching out to the internationals. However, the platform used was deemed too expensive.  During the evaluation, they were planning to look for private organizations which might be able to provide a cheaper alternative to the platform they used, and I am curious to know if this plan happened.

Another contribution of TSCP to the humanitarian sector in the Philippines is how it helped advocate for representation of national NGOs in the Humanitarian Country Team. Previously, the members of HCT were the national operational UN Agencies, Red Cross, the international NGO community represented by the Philippine INGO Network (PINGON), and now CODE NGO is also onboard representing members of the NGO community.


Can you share your main reflections from the work you saw Start Network do through the TSCP project?

I was really hopeful that there would be a phase 2 of the project to build on what it had achieved in its three years of implementation. But even without this, I see that the TSCP was really successful in addressing a major constraint to localisation and collaboration which is funding for and decision-making influence of national organizations during emergency response. The initiatives established by TSCP are still ongoing and this is a major achievement.

If you would like to read more about the Transforming Surge Capacity Project, then there are a number of documents – including the evaluation that Pamela undertook with HAG.  Pamela has written about the lessons of Typhoon Haiyan – where she also highlights the important role that TSCP had in addressing the power struggles between local aid workers and their expatriate colleagues.

If you would like to read more about the activities of the SAFER fund that was created by Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC), and NASSA-Caritas Philippines as a result of the Start Network’s Transforming Surge Capacity Project in the Philippines in 2015, then contact them through email or through their Facebook page. Christian Aid has also written an interesting article on their support of SAFER and the projects the fund has supported.

Read more about the Transforming Surge Capacity project 

Read more about the Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme.


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  • by Helen Guyatt