Spotlight on the Start Fund
Adapting project activities in real-time to newly emerging needs in Kachin
As in many conflict zones, instability can affect project design and delivery. Changing needs, emerging gaps and population variances are recurring aspects of emergency response projects all too familiar to humanitarian organisations. Yet the sector’s delivery model often relies on inflexible funding that requires stringent compliance with original project proposals. Challenges faced by Metta, Christian Aid’s partner in Myanmar, tell a different story.
In April, mounting tensions in Kachin state resulted in ten days of fighting between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army. Around 4,000 people were newly displaced and sought refuge in makeshift tents in open fields, forested areas, church compounds or with host families in Nam Kham, Man Win Gyi and Muse camps. IDPs – many of them just recovering from displacements in November 2013 – faced severe shortages of basic commodities, food, accommodation and clean water.
The Start Fund was alerted on April 30. On May 2 funding was awarded, and project activities began only four days later. By May 8, communities were already receiving the planned assistance.
The Start Fund supported a project delivered by Metta, Christian Aid’s local partner. Although the UN and INGOs are unable to work in this area, Metta has direct access to the affected populations. The original project aimed to provide WaSH and Shelter support through distributing non-food items (NFIs), constructing temporary latrines, emergency shelters and a communal kitchen, and making unconditional cash transfers for food.
Early challenges and emerging needs
After the project began Metta confronted acute challenges. In Kachin, staff faced construction delays because materials usually sourced from certain areas were inaccessible due to the fighting. The early monsoons also brought continuous heavy rains that impeded construction. On top of this, ongoing population movements meant that the original targets for cash transfers could not be reached.
To overcome some of these challenges, Metta leveraged its history of engagement in the area and its strong relationships with other humanitarian actors, camp management committees, and the IDP and host communities. Alternatives were quickly found for procuring construction materials, and details of project activities were agreed through dialogue with IDPs. This resulted in communities identifying new needs not included in the original Start Fund proposal – some students and children were facing termination of studies due to lack of educational resources and some urgent WaSH facility and hygiene kit requirements had been underestimated.
Flexibility and responsive capacity
A critical aspect of the Start Fund theory of change is to increase responsive capacity. The Start Fund handbook requires agencies to “respond based on needs and involve beneficiaries in decision-making and project implementation processes”. Its grant implementation rules are designed to support this – while “no amendments [are] permitted to the Start Fund grant duration… amendments can be made to the actions taken, if [they are] based on needs of the affected population or based on coordinating work with other agencies.”1 Any changes simply need to be well evidenced in the reporting form and budget.
Having the option to modify project activities without bureaucratic approval processes allowed decisions to be made in real-time by the communities, by Metta’s project staff and by the project lead at Christian Aid.
Metta met the challenges head on. Redirecting an underspend from the cash transfer component and the management costs, Metta increased its WaSH work to ensure facilities in camps could cope with the increased population. Based on feedback from the communities, additional semi-permanent latrines and water tank unites were constructed to ensure adequate water provision; more bathing facilities were built to offer protected, secured and private space for both women and men separately; and more hygiene kits were distributed to ensure equitable access to sanitary items.
At the same time, Metta discovered that some families were using the cash transfers meant for food to purchase school materials for their children, because the educational needs were so great. Rather than placing conditions on the cash transfers, Metta discussed this gap with IDP committees and decided to integrate distribution of 686 student kits into the project activities.2 This allowed pupils to attend classes with minimal disruption despite their displacement. It also allowed families to focus on using cash transfers for their original intent.
Since the Start Fund’s flexible mechanisms and rules empowered Metta and Christian Aid to make the best use of funds during the limited 45 day project period, activities matched community needs as they arose – despite divergence from those described at the proposal time. This flexible approach meant that project staff wasted no time in rewriting proposals and budgets while providing humanitarian assistance. They could instead focus on maximising beneficiary involvement and delivering resources responsively. Transparency is then achieved at the reporting time when changes are justified and choices explained through the Start Fund’s peer-review process.