Following the recent CDAC Network Member’s Forum, hosted by the ICRC in Geneva, UNOCHA’s Global CwC Coordinator Alex Sicotte-Levesque summarises one of the panel discussions which focused on the partnerships required for communicating effectively with communities in crisis response.
As Winston Churchill famously said, ‘If we are together nothing is impossible. If we are divided all will fail.’ The CDAC Network was created on that very principle—indeed, collaboration and thus partnerships are essential to ensure that two-way communications with affected people is made a priority in humanitarian response.
As the World Humanitarian Summit is fast approaching and humanitarians question the way they work, the role of partnerships is also being put in the limelight. At this year’s CDAC Network Forum, a dynamic panel composed of representatives from UNOCHA, the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (led by WFP), PECOJON, and Save the Children UK, sought to identify the different myths, challenges and advantages of partnerships in operationalising communicating with communities (CwC) work.
There was a strong sense that dynamics may be shifting in some parts of the world, specifically on how and why the international community engages in partnerships. In the Asia Pacific region, for instance, national governments are increasingly taking control of responses to natural disasters—partnerships in this region must now routinely involve consultative processes with local governments.
As one audience member at the Forum noted, however, humanitarian organisations may very well be ‘a nightmare’ for partners from different sectors to work with. ‘What can we learn from people who have tried to work with us and have struggled?’ was the request. Indeed, as part of its work in communicating with communities, CDAC Network Member organisations and others should be seeking feedback from local partners on collaborative working.
There was agreement that moving toward a truly collaborative approach in humanitarian response is a fundamental shift and will be hard.
Some of the key points mentioned by the panel and its audience were as follows:
Key ingredients to successful partnerships:
Trust: Partnerships are an investment. It takes time to build trust and to be successful a partnership has to be beneficial for all those involved.
Inclusiveness: There are formal and informal partnerships, and partnerships that range from the transactional to the transformational. In the humanitarian sphere, there are so-called traditional and non-traditional partners. Traditional partners (UN agencies, INGOs, etc.) tend only to speak to each other and rarely include so-called non-traditional actors, such as media or private sector in the overall conversation. Furthermore, as one panellist mentioned, humanity should be central to any partnership: ‘We are not hear to further our careers; we are here because we really care and we think this work is important.’
Preparedness: Partnerships and relationships should be formed before a crisis hits. When partnerships are built in advance, responses can be tested and rehearsed, thus better preparing all responders for the unknown.
Outcomes: A focus on the outcome is important for any partnership. Organisations must ask themselves what goal they want to achieve together, look at their outputs and activities, and then determine what partnerships are needed to achieve those outcomes. Working towards a common goal between partners is essential.
Challenges to partnerships:
Unspoken impediments: Partners may have hidden agendas, which of course can eventually create tensions and contribute to the failure of a project or of the partnership itself. Transparency in what each partner wants from the partnership, and can offer, is key.
Unseen barriers: There are often costs associated with partnering. But are current humanitarian funding mechanisms flexible enough to allow for different kinds of partnerships? Many argue that the current financing architecture is not fit for purpose, and doesn’t allow for adequate and timely funding of CwC initiatives and partnerships with local communicators and communities.
Power imbalances: If traditional actors are to partner with non-traditional ones, power imbalances can occur. This must be acknowledged and addressed—for example, find the right space or venue to meet with your partners on an equal footing. Non-traditional partners shouldn’t feel intimidated.
Risks: There’s an element of risk that comes with any new partnership. As one panellist noted, the private sector doesn’t take risks by choice—businesses undertake their analysis, test products and pilots, and then take risks. When working on CwC, we should also analyse a situation and look at what partnerships are possible, which can reduce risks and investment per agency. These dynamics should be analysed and understood before partnerships are entered in to.
Deployments: Traditional humanitarian deployments may not serve partnerships well. More regional and local experts with existing relationships may be better placed to create lasting partnerships. Local sustainability and resilience is essential. However, this should be based on local understanding. In some conflict settings, international staff may be better placed to broker relationships that may be otherwise too complex.
If you missed the CDAC Network Member’s Forum, catch a recording of this panel discussion and others here.
Panel Chair: Richard Cobb (Save the Children International)
Panellists: Gianluca Bruni (ETC/WFP)
Stewart Davies (UNOCHA)
Katie Drew (Save the Children UK)
Len Manriquez (PECOJON)