Spotlight on the Start Fund
Muslim Aid’s 1% learning activity in Somalia
Using the 1% to implement minimum standards in downward accountability in Puntland
The Start Fund was activated on 17 June to respond to an unfolding food security crisis and drought in Somalia. The delayed ‘Gu’ and ‘Deyr’ rains in the region led to two consecutive crop failures, loss of livestock, and an increase in cereal prices. Already in May, OCHA estimated 2.9 million people were affected with hundreds of thousands facing food and water shortages. Muslim Aid responded to the growing emergency with food and water assistance to seven villages in Puntland state in northern Somalia. Muslim Aid was the first agency to take advantage of the Start Fund’s optional 1% learning budget to increase beneficiary engagement. They used this to create a feedback and complaint mechanism, draft case studies and convene a learning workshop to assess the impact of their intervention on the beneficiaries they were aiming to serve.
|From 19 June to 1 August 2014, Muslim Aid distributed food baskets to 900 households and trucked 10,000 litres of water to 833 households in Bander Beyla, Foocaar, Baarmadoobe, Qandala, Laamiye and Mareer in Puntland state. The intervention reached an estimated 7,740 affected individuals. Overall, the project was successful in meeting its planned targets and outputs but did encounter challenges with transportation to remote villages and increasing security during the loading and unloading of aid.Somalia has long been a uniquely challenging environment for humanitarian agencies to operate in. The ongoing insecurity, political instability, recurring food crises and abject poverty increase the complexity of delivering aid for a humanitarian agency of any size or capacity. Interventions are costly and the shrinking of humanitarian space due in part to threatened security of aid workers has hampered access for international organisations and therefore put a strain on building close partnerships with local communities. Implementing humanitarian interventions in fragile states like Somalia at times challenges organisations of all sizes to reach even minimum standards. Yet it is often in these contexts where minimum standards become most pressing.|
Meeting minimum standards of beneficiary feedback
Muslim Aid used the additional 1% of Start funding to implement minimum standard feedback and consultation mechanisms to enable downward accountability and harvest lessons for future responses through an impact learning workshop. These were modest learning activities but gave Muslim Aid an opportunity to refine their downward accountability practices and document the outcomes of their intervention in a profoundly difficult context.
The findings from the beneficiary feedback and learning workshop reinforced common issues with drought-related responses in the region. The communities voiced concerns about targeting the most vulnerable to receive aid and local traders felt negatively impacted by the large scale food distribution. Other complaints were more straightforward to address such as providing containers to ensure beneficiaries can collect their full allotment of water and providing fishing equipment to strengthen the communities’ livelihoods strategies.
About the complaint and feedback mechanism
Throughout the intervention Muslim Aid established a feedback and complaint mechanism to facilitate opportunities for affected people to raise concerns or submit suggestions about the intervention. The feedback and complaints Muslim Aid received fell into roughly four categories: beneficiary selection, the impact of food distribution on local markets, shortage of water containers, and suggestions for new interventions.
1. Beneficiary selection
Even though the agency staff used a community-based targeting method through focus group discussions and interviews with the community leaders to select the aid recipients, some still felt the decisions were made randomly and were not inclusive of all the vulnerable households. Others complained that their extended families were not registered and therefore were not included in the distributions.
2. Impact on local markets
Local traders claimed that the distribution of food baskets contributed to almost no customers for two months.
3. Shortage of water containers
During the water distribution, some beneficiaries did not have enough containers to collect their 50 litre allotment. This meant some households did not receive their full share of water.
4. Suggestions for new interventions
The affected people proposed ideas for meeting other needs in their communities, including suggestions to construct wells, restock livestock, establish schools, procure fishing equipment, and increase health services. They requested vocational trainings for women and marginalized groups to increase their livelihood opportunities.
About the learning workshop
Following the project, Muslim Aid organized a programmatic learning workshop with 42 beneficiaries (females, males and youth) as well as key stakeholders from OCHA, the Puntland Disaster Management Agency, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice of Puntland State, local NGOs and universities. The participants of the workshop visited the project sites and met with communities living in the area. Discussions were held on three topics: community livelihoods, food, and water.
The participants relayed that the delivery of food was especially helpful for vulnerable households. Those that received food baskets had little to no income and were unemployed, making their purchasing power extremely limited in local markets with expensive imported food and rising prices. Beneficiaries expressed satisfaction with the timing of delivery and the contents of the food basket (50 kg of flour, 50 kg of rice, 6 liters of cooking oil, 25 kg of sugar, 2.5 kg of milk powder and 3.33 kg of pulses-lentils). They also shared that the food shortage was further compounded by lack of equipment for fishing in the area. Muslim Aid followed up by trying to secure fishing equipment from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Participants also shared that the method chosen for distributing water was appropriate. A limited number of over-burdened wells and lack of rainfall made new constructions less relevant for this response. Yet, the scarcity of clean water made it difficult for pastoralists to maintain their livelihoods and forced many to migrate. The provision of aid relieved some of the pressure to move. One woman at the workshop said, “without the help of Muslim Aid we would have suffered, the water helped me prepare meals for my children and I don’t have to walk far distances anymore to find clean drinking water.”
About the Start Fund’s 1% learning budget
The 1% learning budget is offered to every Start Fund project to incentivize joint learning and reflection within the Network. It is a flexible budget that can be used by field teams to implement context-appropriate activities that generate an evidence-base for lessons learned and/or increase beneficiary influence. The activities planned with the 1% funding are intended to supplement, not replace, the standard M&E requirements from each project. In this instance, Muslim Aid used the optional £1,000 of funding to organise minimum standard activities to increase beneficiary influence. Member agencies have the flexibility to tailor the 1% learning activities to their project needs and can implement this in various forms. Every time the funding is used by one of the agencies, the findings will be shared on the Start Network blog for easy access for the members and any other stakeholders or interested audiences.