World Humanitarian Summit

Affirming the complementarity of local, national and international action

By leveraging the complementary roles and strengths of local, national, and inter- national humanitarian actors, we extend our reach and the effectiveness of our collective action. This complementarity is inherent in the Movement’s local to global network, its emphasis on global solidarity and its modes of action. While evidently easier to achieve within the confines of a single movement, we believe that this approach – which values distinct but reinforcing action by responders at different levels – can also be beneficial for the humanitarian sector as a whole.

At the same time, we recognize that local actors have been oddly neglected in the humanitarian sector. While international support is required in some contexts (particularly where polarized contexts render principled humanitarian response dangerous for local actors), local responders are often in the strongest position to deliver rapid, culturally appropriate and sustainable humanitarian assistance to their communities. Investment in their capacity and support for their leadership in humanitarian action has, however, been very limited. The WHS presents an opportunity to address both of these issues.

A. Realizing complementarity: the example of the Movement

From its origin, the Movement has involved a partnership among international and national actors. The Movement does not go in and out of crisis areas. It has a permanent presence, globally and locally. Only through cooperation and coordination among all Movement components, capitalizing on their combined strength, are we able to achieve our collective goals.

Mutually supportive mandates are the foundation of the Movement’s complementarity: National Societies are auxiliaries of their Governments in the humanitarian field. They work to prevent the spread of disease and to promote health and social welfare. They provide emergency relief in armed conflict, natural disasters and other emergencies. The ICRC, with its specific mandate set out in the Geneva Conventions, works to ensure protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict and internal strife, and facilitates the operational coordination of the Movement’s response. Through dialogue and training it promotes respect for international humanitarian law, often in partner- ship with National Societies. The IFRC, as the membership organization of the National Societies, works to strengthen the capacity of its members, facilitates their collective advocacy or humanitarian diplomacy, and ensures effective operational coordination in natural disasters and other non-conflict emergencies.

It is not despite, but rather because of these separate but interlocking roles that we extend our reach and collective impact – as well as our agility to respond to increasingly complex and diverse humanitarian emergencies. Our shared history – more than 150 years of Red Cross and Red Crescent action – and our Fundamental Principles further reinforce the combined strength of our Movement. But of course the Movement is not immune to the tensions, misunderstandings and frictions that can hamper alignment among partners. We have found that this requires clear procedures as well as dialogue and practical measures, all of which must be regularly updated. Most recently, we adopted a two-year Plan of Action to strengthen coordination and cooperation within the Movement, to better leverage the complementarity of the different components for the benefit of affected communities.

What we pledge to do

  • We pledge to implement the Plan of Action adopted to strengthen coordination and cooperation within the Movement to better leverage the complementary strengths of the different Movement components.

What we call for

  • We call on all stakeholders to recognize and build the complementary roles of local, national and international actors to meet the needs of affected people across the full range and diversity of humanitarian emergencies.

B. A strong role for national actors, in particular, National Societies

Local actors, National Societies among them, carry numerous advantages in humanitarian action. They (1) have a strong understanding of local risks, vulnerabilities, needs, culture and political realities; (2) deliver rapid response, in light of maximum proximity to their own communities; (3) benefit from significant acceptance, trust and access to affected people; (4) promote substantial consistency, learning and engagement of communities in coping with crises, over time, since they are with their communities before, during, and after crises hit them; and (5) are in an ideal position to link preparedness and response efforts with more holistic approaches to disaster risk reduction and resilience. As described in the 2015 World Disasters Report, the intention to promote a strong role for local actors has been repeatedly voiced in international policy-making bodies, such as the Economic and Social Council and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee. However, this is an area where the gap between rhetoric and reality is prominent.

In practice, we often see international humanitarian actors holding dominant positions, even when it is evident that domestic actors would be well placed to play a central role in a humanitarian response. Moreover, only a negligible proportion of international humanitarian funding is channelled to local actors on terms fully respecting their potential for leadership (rather than hiring them as subcontractors of international organizations). Redressing this will certainly not be without challenges, in light of widely varied capacities among local actors and pressures on donors to monitor and ensure accountability for humanitarian funding. Solutions will depend on long- term investments to strengthen local capacity rather than quick fixes.

Along these lines, on the occasion of the World Humanitarian Summit, the IFRC and ICRC together with interested Governments are seeking to jointly launch a new National Society investment Fund, that will couple material investment in operational and func- tional capacity with tailor-made technical assistance, designed to enable each involved National Society to develop, innovate and grow along the path it has set for itself.

In addition to sustained investment, there is a need for changing attitudes and expectations as to the role played by local actors in humanitarian operations. Like other domestic actors, National Societies often find themselves sidelined by the influx of foreign agencies in cases where there is an international response. Many implementing partnership agreements continue to define domestic actors, including Nation- al Societies, merely as sub-contractors. Instead of investing in these organizations prior to disasters and enabling them to build their organizations, much of current capacity-building support is focused on increasing response capacity in the immediate term. The Movement fully endorses a central role for national actors in humanitarian action and efforts to support and build the capacity of national and local actors to assume this role.

What we pledge to do

  • We pledge to significantly scale up the efforts of National Societies to grow capacities, as required, in order to take a more central role in future responses and to be sustainable and relevant national organizations.
  • We pledge to support National Societies in their engagement with international partners external to the Movement, including in the context of international coordination processes.

What we call for

  • We call on donors to support the new National Society investment Fund and other efforts targeted to strengthen and increase the long-term sustainability of local actors.
  • We call on donors to substantially increase the global proportion of international funding accessible to local actors on terms that enable them to play central roles in humanitarian responses in their countries.
  • We call on all parties to enable principled local and national actors, including National Societies, to deliver principled humanitarian response without hindrance, including in situations of armed conflict.