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The Start Fund Learning Grant

  • by David Burt
  • 15 Oct 18

A ‘Gender Snapshot of the Marawi conflict’. Start Fund alert 165 Philippines, image: Oxfam


Blog Post

When the Start Fund launched in April 2014, it decided to incorporate learning as an organisational priority. To this end, it was agreed that when agencies were awarded funding for disaster and crisis response they could also apply for an additional grant: one per cent of the amount they were awarded for their response, for learning initiatives.

This grant was known as the ‘one per cent learning budget’ and over the course of two years, some seventy projects like International Medical Corps’ response in Yemen in April 2015, which tested and evaluated remote data collection approach using KoBo Toolbox in remote areas, had learning initiatives funded.

These funded initiatives also included workshops, after-action reviews, case studies and learning reports, all of which focused on the agency’s intervention. Some excellent learning was obtained and shared with the Start Network. But a recognised limitation was that the funding available to each agency (one per cent of whatever they were previously awarded) was often not sufficient to conduct meaningful learning initiatives.

In summer 2016, the Start Fund decided to revise this system and subsequently set aside one per cent of its total annual disbursement, to fund learning activities that went above and beyond project level for members of the Start Network to strengthen humanitarian response. This fund for learning maintained the name ‘one per cent learning budget’ and agencies could apply for a greater amount, anything up to £10,000 GBP, with a greater freedom of focus.

The process was refined and made more rigorous to ensure that the Start Fund received quality proposals for learning and that these proposals were judged and selected fairly, based on the approval of a selection committee composed of Start Network member representatives and Start Fund staff.  

This revised ‘one per cent learning budget’ was subsequently awarded to some twenty learning initiatives and produced far-reaching and impressive results. These ranged from a context analysis of urban and peri-urban areas of Juba, South Sudan, which enabled World Vision to select cash-related activities for its partnership with the World Food Programme, and led to a report that influenced other actors (including UN clusters and the UK parliament), to a Trócaire-led Seminar on Structural Seismic Security Regulations aimed at professionals and institutions at the departmental level in earthquake-prone Guatemala that were in charge of setting up policies and mechanisms for safe and resilient housing.

Unfortunately, in Spring 2018, due to a No-Cost Extension, there was no funding available for any additional outputs and funding for learning was put on hiatus.

Since Spring 2018, the Start MEAL team have worked to identify areas for improvement in this grant process and have distinguished three clear objectives:

  1. Aiming to improve transparency (by having clearer weighting criteria when selecting proposals)

  2. Dissemination to the network (by working collaboratively with funded agencies)

  3. Ensuring the application and incorporation of learning (by organising follow-ups).

The Start Fund Learning Grant will be launched on the 15th October 2018, with the next selection round to fund learning initiatives on the 4th December 2018. The Start Fund hopes its members will make the most of this renewed opportunity and submit proposals for learning.

Importantly, the grant has also been rebranded and will be known as the ‘Start Fund Learning Grant’ as we move into the future. The relaunched grant will maintain its key features and will still have a light application process and offer flexibility in terms of budgets, activities, outputs, and timeframes, and agencies will still be able to apply for any amount up to £10,000 GBP.

The emphasis placed on learning since the Start Fund launched, has only increased over the past four years in which the Start Fund has aged and matured, and today a ‘focus on learning’ is included in our mandate for change. Funding learning initiatives for our members will be an important step in this process.


Please note the deadline for learning grant applications will be Thursday 29th November 2018.

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Start Fund

  • by David Burt