A new humanitarian economy
We propose a system in which funding will be dependable and predictable, based on humanitarian need. Responses will be defined by the recipients and early funding will reduce the impact of crises and the cost of response.
What’s wrong with the current system? Here we provide pointers to a new humanitarian economy.
Problem: Response to emergencies is slow - delays of several weeks before aid is agreed and sent
Solution: Making decisions and putting them into effect much faster, with authority delegated by bureaucrats to humanitarian experts and a pool of funding available for immediate use.
What the Start Network is doing: The streamlined decision process used by the Start Fund means that when an alert is raised by a member a decision in principle can be made, projects agreed upon and the funds disbursed - all within just 72 hours. That compares with an average of 17 days when an aid agency acts alone, and longer when governments are directly involved. Meanwhile more people are suffering or dying.
Problem: Failure to plan and prepare for disasters even in regions where they occur regularly
Solution: Invest in local people and systems to enable them to respond on their own behalf to the next emergency, by boosting early warning of impending difficulties and training new humanitarian talent to take responsibility locally.
What the Start Network is doing: The Start Engage workstream including the DEPP - Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme - involves 45 organisations working in 10 disaster-prone countries to develop local communities’ own ability to respond.
Problem: The system is reactive, not proactive. Even when an event such as a food crisis can be foreseen, aid is too often not unlocked until people are dying
Solution: Develop new mechanisms that allow cash to be released for preparations before a crisis strikes - such as pre-positioning food if it is apparent that a drought means harvests will fail.
What the Start Network is doing: Better anticipation of foreseeable emergencies will enable funds to be released ahead of time under a new project soon to be put into effect by Start Network’s new “Anticipation Window”, funded by the European Union’s humanitarian aid programme (ECHO).
Below the radar emergencies
Problem: Failure to respond to small-scale disasters that don’t make headlines or are “below the radar”, even though these account for half of all those affected by crises around the world
Solution: Set funds aside in advance, earmarked for use when humanitarians flag up an event, rather than waiting for a high-profile appeal for help that may never come.
What the Start Network is doing: The Start Fund is designed to do exactly that. Since its launch in 2014 it has reached more than four million people caught up in smaller-scale crises across 46 countries. It has enabled its members to act in response to nearly 80 alerts, disbursing more than £17 million.
ProblemTop-down decision making, with projects skewed to serve donors’ expectations rather than heeding the reality, experience and expertise on the ground
Solution: More decisions taken locally by people who understand the needs and capacities of communities affected by a crisis, and can be trusted to make the best use of available international aid.
What the Start Network is doing: More and more Start Network decisions involve local expertise, with decisions on project selection made within affected countries. Overall, 88 per cent have been decided locally or regionally by the Start Fund. During 2016 the proportion has been even higher.
Decentralised decison making
Problem: Too much power with a handful of supra-national institutions that define the needs and dictate how humanitarians must respond, despite being far from the front lines
Solution: Delegate more funding, project design and decision making to smaller-scale institutions and organisations, and set up processes so that everything is driven by the need on the ground.
What the Start Network is doing: The UK, Irish and Dutch governments have passed almost £20 million between them to the Start Fund since 2014, trusting Start Network members’ experienced humanitarians to make wise choices about its use - always in collaboration with one another and with peer review.
Problem: Too many rules and too much red tape make it harder for aid agencies to respond flexibly to changing circumstances
Solution: Donors delegate more power to established agencies, including trusted local organisations and affected communities, allowing them to use their own judgement over how best to operate.
What the Start Network is doing: Because Start Network’s members must meet high standards before they are allowed to join, and because every project undertaken is peer-reviewed, donors know the agencies can be trusted to make the right decisions and deliver the best outcomes without unnecessary interference. Because of this Start Network can eliminate unnecessary red tape.
Problem: Organisations are unwilling to experiment or take risks to deliver aid in new and better ways
Solution: Find new ways to unlock investment in protecting the gains made by economic development from the damage caused by natural disasters.
What the Start Network is doing: The DEPP, managed through Start Engage in partnership with the CDAC Network and UK aid, includes 14 projects with experimental elements whose outcome will be reported upon. Meanwhile Start Labs aims to become a test bed for innovative ideas from the wider network of members.
New financial mechanisms
Problem: Limited sources of capital to finance humanitarian responses
Solution: Adopt a more open-minded attitude to innovation so that new ideas can be tested and the results shared widely, successful or not.
What the Start Network is doing: Start Labs is collaborating with the African Risk Capacity project on a new facility to protect populations from the effects of drought, and is working with the private sector to develop insurance-based solutions to the effects of other crises.
Problem: Lack of coordination between aid agencies and failure to operate well together leads to wasted effort and duplication
Solution: Get agencies to work together more regularly at all stages of crisis response, and improve communications systems to make this easier.
What the Start Network is doing: Start Network demands greater collaboration between its members and other humanitarian agencies in every sphere. The Start Fund’s decision-making process forces agencies to think collectively about where and how to intervene. Collaboration by a wide range of agencies is key to how Start Response tackles larger scale emergencies such as the European refugee crisis, from which lessons about how to improve future inter-operability are now being learned.