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A Building a Better Response Panel Discussion on Coordination and Emergency Response at the Local Level

Can humanitarian response be truly localized? This was the central question debated at a panel discussion in Dakar, Senegal organized by ICVA and the Building a Better Response project, and hosted by the OCHA regional office on November 2, 2015. Attendees included representatives from national and international non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, and donor governments.

The discussion in Dakar included panelists Allegra Baiocchi, Regional Representative, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Mamadou Ndiaye, Executive Director of the Senegal-based African Office for Development and Cooperation (OFADEC), and Omar Taha, International Medical Corps, Project Manager, Building a Better Response project. Liliane Bitong Ambassa, Regional Representative for ICVA, moderated the talk, which focused on putting local and national actors in the center of humanitarian action.

There was widespread sentiment among panelists that while there are many high-level discussions about localizing humanitarian response, the debate has remained rhetorical and not much has been done to change the realities on the ground. At the field level, the notion that local NGOs do not have the capacity to respond was disputed, with one panelist noting that whether or not an organization has the capacity does not depend on whether the organization is national or international; there are also international NGOs that are lacking capacity. In addition, international NGOs leave the country when the crisis is over, while local organizations are there to stay. However, it was noted that there is enough space for everyone to contribute to the needs of affected populations—especially if the response is well-coordinated. The panelists agreed that it was recommended to not contribute to the polarization of the debate but to focus on partnerships and complementarity.

Another panelist stated that national NGOs have to find niches for themselves and know how to sell their strengths, especially when it comes to accessing humanitarian funding. The panel also discussed the changes to the pooled funding mechanisms that are under way, and how this could impact, positively and negatively, the ability of national NGOs to access pooled funding.

Attendees and panelists all agreed that a bottom-up and top-down approach was needed to localize aid. Local organizations and governments should try to take more center stage, while main actors in the international humanitarian coordination system should ensure that barriers faced by local actors are removed. The importance of meaningful partnerships was highlighted, as well as the introduction of a possible certification for local and national NGOs, which would make it easier to assess local capacity. In addition, it was highlighted that local government should be at the center of the response as well.

The panel discussion served as a platform to introduce the French version of the Building a Better Response e-learning that was launched earlier this year. To date, more than 13,000 people have registered for the online course, which is available in English, French, and Arabic. The e-learning tool is free and able to run in low-bandwidth settings, making information that was previously not widely accessible to many local emergency responders available. The hope is that with tools such as the BBR online course, more national responders will have the knowledge and confidence to be part of the international coordination system and will contribute to stronger and more localized humanitarian responses.