What a ride
Three years ago last month, the H2H Network burst onto the scene at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.
In his opening remarks at the summit, Ban Ki-moon, said the summit was born out “concern for rising humanitarian needs and declining political will. Today, the urgency has only grown.” Solutions around conflict resolution, localizing response, leaving no one behind and shifting funding, were laid out in his speech and throughout the summit. Three years on, the urgency has only grown. Has any progress been made?
The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) was a very important moment in time for my small NGO. Six years into building Translators without Borders (TWB), it was affirmation that small, independent specialist agencies have a role to play in this new approach to response. We had brought language into the discussion on improved community engagement, and WHS gave us the space and opportunity to be heard.
In that spirit, TWB also was one of the founding members of the H2H (humanitarian-to-humanitarian) Network. In the corners and crevices of the massive expo space, the network quietly – and disruptively – launched into the humanitarian ecosystem. The idea was simple. Specialist services developed and offered to all humanitarian responders, addressing cross-cutting issues can help the overall response be more effective, of higher quality, and more efficient. Pulling certain activities and services out of the silos inherent in the system, and trusting them to independent experts, was a story that fit perfectly with the newly developed Grand Bargain workstreams and the WHS goal to take response to the next level.
At the time, H2H was a concept and a loose network of like-minded, mostly small, agencies. It used a bit of ingenuity to get noticed, hanging questions and post-its around the halls, questioning the system and how to break it to make it better.
In the past three years, the network has seen growth in membership and has convened regularly to address and reflect on the common issues faced by independent and typically small humanitarian service providers. There has been an increase in collaborative efforts among members, and the network has coordinated collective member responses to two emergencies – the Caribbean in 2017, and Cyclone Idai in March 2019.
Most importantly, the network now has three years of support by UK aid from the UK government, providing funding for the network and rapid activations by members. That stability allows the network to maintain a small staff and to build an organizational structure and strategy to support the wide response community and the members. Three months ago, I took the position of humanitarian adviser, shifting from my view as a member to being part of the core team building the network. I joined Jude Burchett, the network’s coordinator, and Alice Darq, the network’s finance officer.
Yet, I am not sure we are closer to answering the question of whether collective services play a role in making response for effective for affected populations and more efficient for responders and donors. More work needs to be done in this area – and we need to ask more sophisticated questions. How do we define quality? Are all humanitarian responders benefitting from collective services and are we reducing duplication? Are we missing needed services, and is there a way to measure the value of collective efforts that are greater than the sum of parts?
In the coming months, the network will develop a comprehensive measurement and learning framework to address these questions. We also are embarking on a mapping of the services in the network and will begin to communicate more regularly with members and humanitarians needing services. And by later this summer, the mechanism for funding our members rapidly for response will be in place, allowing members to impact rapid onset responses quickly and when their services are most in need.
Stay tuned for more. Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions for our small team, please do email us at [email protected]. We are excited about the next three years of growth and learning.