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Many of the best and brightest in the aid world have long urged better support of local capacity for self-preservation. This includes every signatory of The Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship which emphasizes the importance of strengthening local preparedness for man-made threats. Such an effort has not yet been systematically funded or operationalized - yet you can help reorient aid practice and make it happen.


Donors are justifiably fatigued and financially stretched by chronic, cyclic crises. But at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul they were roundly called upon to do more.


One call has arisen more than any other: recognize that affected people are the central actors

in their own survival… This requires a fundamental change in the humanitarian enterprise….

[There must be] a greater investment in empowering people… Humanitarian preparedness

must be reoriented to support local coping strategies… support individual and community-based

self-protection. [1]


Fund Center staff to prepare then widely promote and provide to aid agencies the tools and services they will need in order to offer comprehensive preparedness support to their local counterparts and communities as violence grows.


Help the Center’s clients by “priming the pump” with funding of low-cost, high-impact stipends and micro-grants for their local counterparts and communities.

Donors deserve more options. The global summit’s conclusion points them unmistakably toward the option of preparedness support. It is overdue; it is also highly affordable and accountable:


  • Nothing is a better cost-saver than early action. This has been shown time and again in the field of disaster risk reduction. Though focused on natural hazards, the underlying aim of DRR, as well as quite a few of its preparedness methods, can be applied to situations of impending violence.


  • “Partial reliance on local self-help initiatives can be expected to make relief less expensive, more effective, and more likely sustainable.” [2] It leverages local leadership, resources, and manpower.


  • Preparedness support does not rely upon long logistical tails of imported commodities, expatriates, or physical infrastructure, so these costliest of line items would be avoided.


  • Beyond its cheaper mechanics, a retrofitted aid service delivery vehicle will steer around the wasteful “costs of doing business” that are passed on to donors. By being selective in matters of transparency and consent it will better avoid extortive state or non-state taxation, rate-gouging, skimming, looting, diversion, rentals, and rackets. Thus more funding gets where it is intended.


  • Programs in Sudan piloting rudimentary forms of preparedness show the phenomenal reach of even small-scale efforts. Supported by the Danish Local-to-Global Protection initiative, local teams tooled up guidance in, and brought micro-funding for, safety as well as life-critical sustenance and services. They dispersed to animate action in locales cut off from any outside protection. Next, spin-off teams independently launched a second generation of dissemination. Then third-generation messaging spontaneously occurred by word of mouth. At last count the pilots reached up to four hundred thousand people with life-saving guidance and resources at a cost as low as .50 cents per individual.


  • Funding for preparedness support might involve (1) stipends for facilitators and wardens who help mobilize the populace. It also might include micro grants for (2) families arranging “asset protection plans,” (3) communities preparing “risk reduction plans,” (4) local groups employing youth in “public service plans” as an alternative to recruitment into violence, and (5) local providers revamping with “retrofitted delivery plans.”


  • The results of preparedness are measured through both longitudinal and latitudinal comparison. Due to its focus on early engagement, it is able to establish a truer baseline than is typical of emergency work. And given its focus on tangible physical actions, it can cite more measurable and attributable outcomes. The difference: documentable steps for preparedness (getting families and assets out of harm’s way, etc.) versus today’s strategies which require civil, legal, political, juridical, institutional, or even societal change. Today’s approaches to protection have always had difficulty demonstrating what donors’ money actually buys.


Clearly, routine references to “resilience” and “supporting local capacity” have not been enough. One-off publications or forums on the subject have not been enough. Habitual, even hackneyed calls for “innovation” have not been enough. With professionalism has come conservatism.


For pioneering humanitarians such as Fred Cuny, adaptability and dynamism were integral to aid

provision in the world’s most volatile regions. But… there are growing concerns that humanitarian organisations are failing to maintain the pioneering, creative spirit exemplified by Cuny and

like-minded predecessors and contemporaries. [3]


Today’s aid agencies need more of Fred Cuny’s exasperatingly brilliant unorthodoxy. But one cannot simply lay blame on the agencies. They deserve to be presented with a well-rounded regimen of incentives.


The Center is offering several of those incentives. It has developed the “paradigm” and process for preparedness support and will assist agencies with its adoption so as to pilot it wherever they face the greatest peril. The Center needs giving patrons to meet it half way. Of these latter two points it can be assuredly said: danger and dollars have long been the greatest movers of humanitarian innovation.


[1] World Humanitarian Summit secretariat, Restoring Humanity: Synthesis Report of the Consultation Process for the World Humanitarian Summit, New York, United Nations, 2015; pp. 12-13.

[2] Birgitte Refslund Sørensen, Self-Help Activities among Internally Displaced Persons, Chapter 6 in Rights Have No Borders: Internal Displacement Worldwide, Wendy Davies, Ed., Norwegian Refugee Council / Global IDP Survey, 1998; p.1 of that chapter.”

[3] Michael Barnett, Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 2011; p. 9.


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