Humanitarian system reform, and market systems

Reply on Discourse | 6 comments

April 28, 2023, 6:42 p.m.

James Shepherd-Barron

A thoughtful and constructive contribution as ever, Thomas. Thank you ... and Karri, Daniel and Roger too. Perhaps I should expand on why I think it's time to shift from "a response-oriented framework to a proactive risk management approach". Just a handful of bullets to underpin the ‘use case’ ... but please bear in mind when reading that I don't count myself as any kind of expert in Markets Systems or Development MSD; it's just that cash and markets have, in my view, a role in reducing disaster risk which I think hasn't been fully acknowledged: 1. It’s not just me. In an attempt to galvanise further reductions in disaster loss, the UN (UNDRR) acknowledges that continuing to focus on disaster response is neither sufficient nor ethical in a world where risk is outpacing our collective ability to manage it. Instead, it has called for a shift of emphasis away from responding to humanitarian crises towards reducing disaster impacts by managing accumulated hazard risk. 1. At the same time, OCHA (UNDAC) quietly acknowledges that disaster management and humanitarian coordination are two different things. But humanitarian agencies are loathe to let go of a consensual coordination approach which more or less allows them – and their bilateral donors -- to cherry-pick; to do what they want, where they want when the alternative is the more directive approach taken by national disaster management authorities (NDMAs). We have spent nearly 20 years building NDMA capacity around the world. It’s time for them to step up and us to let go. 1. Stepping back has implications for donors, too. Bilateral institutions won’t want to relinquish the soft power that humanitarian aid affords. But they should at least pool their resources, harmonise their bureaucracies, and empower the Clusters to decide on resource allocations. This, by the way, was the original intention of the ‘humanitarian reform agenda’ back in 2005 – just ask one of its architects, Jan Egeland – but was quickly neutered by UNICEF, IOM and others in Pakistan in 2005 when they realised the loss of income this implied. The Cluster Approach was still-born as a result. I digress. 1. Humanitarian action can only ever address symptoms. Without addressing underlying causes, we are condemned to a cycle of ‘Respond-Recover-Repeat’. To address the main ‘determinants of disaster’, the aid industry has to address all phases of the disaster risk management cycle, from Risk-Resilience-Readiness to Response-Recovery-Reconstruction (what I like to call “The R-Train of Disaster Management”). 1. According to my Calculus-of-Calamity model (an integrated risk optimisation model for the management of disaster risk), there are approximately 60 key determinants of disaster. All can be measured and so can be managed in order to reduce disaster risk. Nine of these are relate to Disaster Economics and therefore, to an extent, Cash and Markets: 1. Access to Cash (# of ATMs/Agents/Bank Branches per 100,000 population) 1. Financial Inclusion (Indicator: % Adult females with bank accounts) 1. Individual Smartphone ownership (% Active Mobile Money accounts) 1. Issuance of Sovereign Catastrophe Bonds ($ Amount) 1. Lines of Commercial Credit ($ amounts pre-agreed with Central Banks and/or Wholesalers) 1. Insurance Coverage (% Households with Catastrophe Risk Insurance) 1. Income Equity (GINI coefficient) 1. Savings Groups (% of rural villages with at least one registered group) 1. Proportion of cash-based interventions (by $ value in HNO)1. Management – or, rather, poor management – is the biggest risk factor of them all when it comes to reducing disaster risk. Whether or not we embrace area-based approaches rather than sector-based approaches or risk-based approaches rather than rights-based approaches, our risk-averse world requires disaster managers to manage risk nowadays, not humanitarians. To achieve this will require an upgrading of our skills and a new educational curriculum. An ’International Disaster Risk Management’ MBA anyone? p.s If anyone would care to comment on, edit, or add to the nine metrics listed above, please feel free to do so. I would be delighted. If you want to know more about the Calculus-of-Calamity model, there are blogs/videos on my website (under BLOG and MICROCLASSES)

April 28, 2023, 11:15 a.m.


Hello everyone, I've been closely following the conversation, and I'd like to share my thoughts on the challenges and opportunities surrounding humanitarian coordination, market systems development (MSD), and our role as members of the MiC community. Roger, you brought up concerns about the disconnect between humanitarian coordination and outward-looking ways of working, like MSD. This highlights the need for better understanding and collaboration among stakeholders. Karri emphasized the significant impact of terminology and language barriers in our field. Different groups often use various terms for similar concepts, leading to confusion and hindering collaboration. As experts in our respective fields, we should promote open dialogue, learn from one another, and work towards establishing a common language that bridges these gaps. James, your focus on adopting risk management-oriented approaches aligns with the growing need for more effective humanitarian coordination. Shifting from a response-oriented framework to a proactive risk management approach can make coordination more efficient, inclusive, and sustainable. This may involve rethinking the structure and functioning of humanitarian coordination systems and promoting a more comprehensive understanding of disaster risk. Additionally, aligning humanitarian coordination with development efforts can enhance the resilience of communities and reduce the impact of crises. Daniel, your idea of starting small with MSD-informed programming is crucial in addressing the constraints practitioners often face at the country level. Overcoming organizational barriers, such as the reinforcing pressures of institutions, can help us create more collaborative and inclusive solutions. In light of these discussions, my initial reflections were that I need to better consider internalizing the following principles: Adapt initiatives to local contexts, ensuring they are relevant and responsive to local challenges, opportunities, and stakeholders. Leverage existing networks, resources, and initiatives at the country level to optimize our efforts without stretching resources too thin. Prioritize small-scale, incremental changes that demonstrate the value of improved MSD and humanitarian coordination, building momentum for broader change. Foster partnerships with local stakeholders to pool resources, knowledge, and expertise, ensuring initiatives are locally relevant and sustainable. I encourage all of us in the MiC community to engage with the new MiC and contribute to discussions on these points. Our collective expertise and open dialogue in this safe space can help drive meaningful change in humanitarian coordination and MSD. Let's work together to address these challenges and create a more effective, resilient, and inclusive future. Kind regards, Thomas Byrnes

April 27, 2023, 8:49 a.m.

Karri Byrne

I agree with you somewhat James... terminology is a big barrier. And it is disappointing that we've been saying that for so many years, yet very little has changed. I get discouraged by how often I hear different groups 'sticking to their guns' with regards to the use of various terminology and being unwilling to understand how others talk about that same set of activities (think: livelihoods, value chains, market systems, private sector engagement... which are all different ways of talking about one's economic life) Hopefully MiC remains a place where we can bridge the gap a bit. But we also need to recognize that "language creates culture" and so those groups often have a meaningful reason for using the words they do (example: the way a doctor speaks about a medical solution is almost incomprehensible to me, but makes perfect sense to his/her colleagues). We need to expand our knowledge of other operational 'cultures'... just like we seek to understand different contexts in our work. And to your point Roger, I would suggest we need to start focusing on the *incentives behind* different ways of working. If Humanitarian Coordination isn't working, and/or is inward focused, what incentives in the structure are keeping it that way?

April 23, 2023, 4:28 p.m.

James Shepherd-Barron

No wonder you're feeling 'disconnected', Roger. For me, the challenge lies in our collective failure to adapt the terms 'humanitarian' and 'coordination' to a world of growing disaster risk where we are being asked under the Sendai agreement to move from responding to crises to managing risk. Which is why I promote 'International Disaster Risk Management' not 'Humanitarian Coordination' (which is also incorrectly configured, in my view ... but that's another story for another day).

April 21, 2023, 5:47 a.m.

Daniel Langfitt

Hi Roger, I don’t think I have any original thoughts on this topic, but it’s one I’m glad you raised it. I spent the last couple years doing market-systems-informed work in an area dominated by humanitarian organisations, and I often asked myself the same question. I never really got to a satisfactory answer, but if I’d had a few more years I’d have liked to have tried building that kind of coordination and “outward-looking way of working” across the field-activity-management staff of different organisations. It seemed as if further up the hierarchy of the regional or national office, the reinforcing pressures of the institution made it difficult to push an agenda on say, the humanitarian/development nexus. On the other hand, many of the more activity-oriented staff, especially the ones who had been doing it for a while, had a lot of enthusiasm for trying different ways of working. Perhaps starting with some small efforts for more MSD-informed programming could a good way to build a common understanding? Interested in yours and others’ thoughts, Dan.

April 17, 2023, 2:56 p.m.

Roger Dean

Hi all. I'm sitting on a call about humanitarian system reform right now (not necessarily within the organisation I happen to work for! ). Grand Bargain, cluster systems, area-based coordination... and so on. In one of my former lives as a Cash practitioner I used to get excited and engaged debating where and when and how and with whom humanitarian coordination should happen, to make it useful from a cash perspective. Today it feels ... disconnected. I'm wondering where the opportunities are for making arguably inward-looking humanitarian coordination *useful* to outward-looking ways of working (like MSD). Because many of us in this community are well-placed to militate for change Any thoughts?