The future of Humanitarian Surge
In 2015 the Start Network launched a three-year Transforming Surge Capacity (TSC) project financed with UK aid from the UK government as part of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP). The project has seen engagement by eleven UK-based aid agencies with a collective focus on finding ways to ensure effective civil society surge capacity in order to deliver more efficient, collaborative and localised emergency responses.
Since 2015, crises have continued with many conflict-affected countries also hosting refugees and experiencing disasters associated with natural hazards. Asia remains the most disaster-prone region in the world. Facing these challenges, there has been a new momentum for change with the commitments made in the Grand Bargain which put localisation at the forefront of addressing humanitarian crises.
In response, this pilot project has brought together agencies to undertake concrete collaborative activities on surge which has transformed how those involved – both at individual and organisational levels – think about and act regarding surge.
With a geographic focus on Asia, the agencies involved in the project – ActionAid (project lead), Action Against Hunger, CAFOD, CARE, Christian Aid, International Medical Corps, Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Plan International, Save the Children and Tearfund – have each taken the lead on and contributed to specific areas in which they have specialised skills and knowledge.
In order to implement the project, collaborative platforms were established at national, regional and international levels. Platforms were created in the Philippines and Pakistan (national platforms hosted by Christian Aid and ActionAid respectively) and Bangkok (a regional platform hosted by Plan International). With collaboration at its heart, the project has focused around eight themes:
Women in Surge
Engagement with Wider Sector
HR Good Practice
This report has gathered data from project agencies and platforms with the aim of highlighting learning emanating from the project in order to support the humanitarian sector towards more effective surge practices. The learning identified will feed into the Future for Humanitarian Surge event, organised by the TSC Project, to be held in London in November 20171.
Following a baseline of project agencies’ surge capacity in the first year of the project, further research to understand the state of surge across the humanitarian sector was undertaken the following year2. This provided the largest snapshot of surge in over a decade and informed the project’s efforts on understanding and piloting approaches to: Localised surge systems. Collaborative approaches to surge. Good practice in surge activities.
The national and regional level platforms have spearheaded a number of initiatives which have involved project agencies as well as other stakeholders. One of the key initiatives which brought together two of the project’s central focus areas of localisation and collaboration has been the development and piloting of multi-agency surge rosters. Development of the rosters has enabled humanitarian agencies to draw on a pool of some 600 surge staff from different international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), partner organisations, national NGOs and other stakeholders, ready to deploy in response to emergencies across the Asia region and beyond.
Being involved in the project has highlighted to agencies the importance of localised approaches to surge and has encouraged thinking and action to promote this. The project has fostered significant levels of collaboration across all project areas, in a way which would not have been possible without the TSC Project’s existence. Rather than focusing on individual agency surge, the project has ensured collaborative engagement in many surge practices. In addition, the humanitarian sector’s current focus on localisation has meant that major international surge actors – such as the UN, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and INGOs – have started to review their approaches in this regard, highlighting the timeliness of the project.
All TSC Project agencies highlight how valuable the project has been institutionally in terms of progressing organisational and collaborative surge practices. This is most visible through the development and piloting of the above-mentioned rosters but has also been a central feature of all other project areas. Agencies have come together to develop surge-related training packages including the development of innovative mindfulness and wellbeing modules; piloting of private sector partnerships for disaster preparedness; undertaking research to identify and promote the role of women in surge; and the sharing of human resources good practices. Whilst the project has acknowledged the benefits of collaborative action, it is important to note that this approach takes time and has required significant levels of shared individual and organisational commitment and vision from the earliest stages.
One of the essential and underlying components of the project has been to understand surge-related capacity building needs and gaps. Contributions here have required collaborative approaches to developing training modules with individual agencies leading on different modules where they could provide specific inputs related to their areas of expertise. As a result a surge capacity training course, with eight separate modules, has been developed and tested during the project. The course includes a module on mindfulness and wellbeing as well as a module on behavioural competencies – an important yet frequently absent element of surge – focused training.
The role of women in surge was identified at the start of the project as an area that required further attention. In spite of the recognition that women play a crucial role in surge responses, particularly in reaching some of the most vulnerable populations, few agencies have specific surge gender policies. The proportion of women involved in surge responses has been found to be context-specific although at least three project agencies have started to implement proactive women-led response approaches. Research undertaken during the project highlighted some worrying barriers to promoting the role of women in surge. These include concerns about personal safety and security, and issues such as the lack of confidence amongst women in relation to being involved in surge activities, particularly at leadership level.
One of the project’s cross-cutting themes – and an area identified as critical to ensuring appropriate surge responses – has focused on the sharing of good human resources (HR) practice and the promotion of learning in this area. A series of guidelines have been developed in relation to staff care, ethical recruitment and HR coordination, and an HR platform created to exchange learning in this area. In addition, two HR conferences have been held to bring together HR professionals to share learning and make recommendations on surge-related HR gaps that need to be addressed in the future.
Learning from the project has shown that localised and collaborative surge are not only realistic but that they are effective. In order to further the efforts started through this unique project, a willingness of actors across the humanitarian sector is required to encourage a change of approach to surge, both in terms of mind-set and in the implementation of practical activities. In this way, the future of surge responses to crises will continue to increase the involvement of those directly affected by, and those closest to, disaster, thus ensuring swifter and more effective humanitarian surge responses in a collaborative and accountable way. To support this process, the project supports future surge models based on more collaborative and localised approaches, aimed at transforming how the humanitarian system and communities surge.