1. Since the adoption of the Principles of Partnership by the Global Humanitarian Platform (GHP) in 2007, there is an increasing focus on the concept of ‘partnership’ and its principles. Could you please elaborate on what constitutes partnerships and how can partnerships move beyond ‘projects’?
Thank you for asking such an important question.
The ultimate aim of humanitarian action is to reduce vulnerabilities and increase resiliency of affected populations. These actions should normally be undertaken by the government, but in crisis; the governments body may collapse and become unable or cannot adequately provide necessary services to a certain location or population. In such cases, non-governmental organizations, both local or international, step in to substitute, complement. If not coordinated effectively, the multitude of actors can result in the opposite of the desired outcome; duplication, ineffectiveness, and unmet needs.
This is where our understanding of partnership comes forward. Partnerships are most effective when partnering organizations complement, not compete with or duplicate each other’s’ efforts, capacities, and assets. It goes without saying that no single actor can alone meet humanitarian needs of an affected community, especially in complex and dynamic settings like the one in Northwest Syria. For this reason, it is crucial that local, international, and other types of actors engage in partnerships in a way that build local capacity, and ensures collaboration, transparency, and accountability. We believe that building local capacity is key for partnerships to move beyond individual projects, and provide sustainable, long-lasting impact. The partnership can also be extended toward the joint-efforts in mobilizing resources and advocacy.
2. All the five principles of partnership are mutually reinforcing. They all aimed to address existing gaps within the humanitarian context; yet there are several challenges to ensure their implementation. For the NWS context, what are the main challenges for the implementation of partnerships in general and its principles in particular?
With regard to situation in NWS, the main challenge is modest local capacity. As it is well known in the NGO community, Syria did not have a strong civil society culture before the start of the conflict. Provision of services by non-government actors in non-state areas has therefore become a major challenge since then, and INGOs played a major role in this respect. But the protracted nature of the crisis required that local NGOs, community organizations and other local actors should build necessary capacity and undertake some responsibility with the support of international NGOs. This was a long and slow process because of the lack of pre-conflict civil capacity. Another general challenge is the volatility of security situation in the region. The pace and intensity of military conflict has repeatedly shown rapid increase recently, causing massive destruction and displacement. Rapidly changing situation on the ground therefore a challenge for long-term, development-oriented partnerships.
In terms of principles of partnerships, we would like to emphasize that the most important one is the principle of equality. Whereas the principle calls for mutual respect between the parties irrespective of size and power, in reality, most partnerships occur in a way that the INGO dictates the partnership terms and local NGO has to agree what has been offered. Local NGOs has also little say in determining strategic directions, policies, and priorities. We believe there should be a more balanced approach to INGO-local NGO partnerships, and the notions of mutual respect, equal distribution of roles, responsibilities, and risks should be observed.
3. What role do the Donor Community and UN play in terms of enhancing effective partnerships? Could you please elaborate how humanitarian organizations can refer to partnership principles in their relations with them and promote localization and effective partnerships?
The partnership principles and the localization commitments of Grand Bargain provides effective frameworks for local humanitarian organizations in their relations with donors and UN agencies. For example, to promote the principle of equality, it would be useful for the donors to allocate multi-year investment for building local NGO capacity, or a commitment to allocating at least 25% of humanitarian funding to local NGOs. These localization commitments will also contribute to realization of equality principle and can be effective references for local NGOs in their relations with donors.
Therefore, donors and UN agencies should constantly be reminded on the crucial importance of building local capacity, and promote direct partnership mechanisms, including direct funding, between donors and local NGOs. Both donors and UN agencies may also provide capacity building through non-financial means such as mentoring and coaching, thereby reaching a more diverse set of humanitarian organizations.
4. Please kindly provide a best case/lessons learnt from your own experience on building and managing partnerships? What are some practices your organizations do and policies your organization develop to ensure successful partnerships?
In Bonyan’s case, a best-case partnership example is our partnership with UNICEF. We have a long-standing partnership experience with UNICEF, started with a modest-scale project when Bonyan was a fairly nascent organization. Yet the size and complexity of projects for which Bonyan partnered with UNICEF have grown continuously. This could have been possible by UNICEF’s dedication to partnership principles. Bonyan has been given voice and agency from the initial project design and priority setting processes. This made it possible for us to align projects with our core mission and vision. Apart from equality, this also provided transparency on an equal footing, which was essential for building mutual trust. UNICEF was also keen on building local capacity. Throughout our partnership, we have been provided with many organizational and human capacity building training opportunities. As our capacity became stronger, we could better build on our comparative advantages, and the complementarities between the two organizations have resulted in more effective delivery of results.
5. Within the NWS NGO Forum, a dedicated working group for Partnership has been established and is bringing together members’ representatives regularly. What are your expectations from this group and what role it can play to enhance effective partnerships?
The PWG is an important platform, first and foremost for coordination among a multiplicity of actors, but also for information and experience sharing. On the other hand, we expect the group to advocate for full implementation of 5 principles of partnership as well as localization commitments of Grand Bargain by donors, UN agencies, and international NGOs. It is also important to develop standardized tools and instruments for partnership procedures and processes, so that it can be more predictable for all sides of the partnerships. Last but not least, the Working Group may continuously assess needs related to capacity development, map capacity development activities or develop such activities if not available, and follow-up with the group members to understand to what extent capacity development needs have been met.