The Grand Bargain at Five Years: An Independent Review

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
Originally published
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HPG commissioned report

By Victoria Metcalfe-Hough, Wendy Fenton, Barnaby Willitts-King and Alexandra Spencer


2021 is proving to be another year in which millions of people are reliant on humanitarian assistance, as indicated by the Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) 2021. The impacts of armed conflicts, disasters, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic continue to push people into vulnerability. Humanitarian organisations and donors are faced with growing challenges and expectations as they respond to these needs, as it is not always easy to find solutions to the root causes of these problems. In their efforts to do so, the humanitarian community, including the signatories to the Grand Bargain, strives to assist in the best possible manner. The intentions and objectives of the Grand Bargain negotiators in 2016 were to work together, bound by the Bargain, to improve how assistance reaches people affected by crises and disasters. And their objectives were ambitious! Five years on, there is an opportunity to critically assess progress, individually and collectively. Once again, this year’s annual independent report supports us in this endeavour. The report looks at progress made in 2020, considers broader Grand Bargain developments since 2016 and reflects on the risk-sharing conversation, a topic the Grand Bargain signatories first discussed during the 2020 Annual Meeting.

Despite the ambitious nature of the tasks we set ourselves, there has been progress, as this report clearly highlights. Progress that we should acknowledge. Collectively and as individual institutions, we have improved the way we work, enhanced how we work jointly to assess and analyse needs and learned how to use cash transfer programming more widely to support people better. We are better at supporting local organisations, and we are moving towards greater harmonisation of reporting. And we have a clearer understanding of how a conversation about the risks inherent in humanitarian action can allow partners to better share those risks, enabling more effective assistance.

The report also recognises that change takes time, and that some ambitions have not been fulfilled: achieving quality financing at scale and for local organisations, ensuring the inclusion of affected people in collective processes and promoting greater efficiencies by working together more closely, for example on reducing donor assessments and cutting management costs, or having a common data standard in the interest of greater transparency.

While we might have reached some of our targets, the Grand Bargain’s overall objectives of greater effectiveness and efficiency remain as relevant today as they were in 2016. Individual signatories have taken important decisions in recent years to change their practices in line with the Grand Bargain and the technical progress and products that have emerged through its processes. It is now time to build on this. It is time to take more bold and ambitious collective political decisions on specific Grand Bargain commitments, to scale up what we know works, and to overcome enduring problems. This is more important than ever given the growing humanitarian financing gap.

I would like to thank ODI for its excellent work in capturing our collective progress. This is the fourth year that ODI has conducted the independent review. Thanks to the expertise gathered throughout these years, ODI has provided valuable advice to improve and enhance the Grand Bargain framework, processes and structures, including with respect to the Bargain’s future. Through this process, we as signatories continue to strengthen our accountability and transparency, complementing other humanitarian response evaluations.

The report observes that the majority of signatories continue to recognise the value of the Grand Bargain platform. Since its inception, the platform has adapted, offering scope to engage more directly with new and emerging issues, including with local organisations. That is its strength. We must continue to be ambitious in what we want to achieve, and take the political decisions required to make it work. Not for ourselves, but for – and together with – the people we aim to serve.

Sigrid A.M. Kaag
Grand Bargain Eminent Person
Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Reflections from Facilitation Group members

Mr Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner for Crisis Management: The Grand Bargain has demonstrated our capacity as humanitarians to look introspectively at how we should reform to better serve people in need, and justify the trust put in us by taxpayers and budgetary authorities. We have come a long way already but this is not the time for complacency. Now we need to make bold decisions to translate the technical work of these past years into concrete change, to respond to growing humanitarian needs more flexibly, effectively and efficiently, and to increase the accountability, transparency and visibility of aid. At the same time, we must step up investment in prevention and anticipatory action to strengthen resilience and help avert further needs. Prevention is better than cure!

Mr Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator: The Grand Bargain continues to remain ‘grand’ for its inclusiveness. It is a partnership and a ‘bargain’ among all key stakeholders to make the humanitarian system more responsive and anticipatory for affected populations. The Grand Bargain has been a catalyst for change, although the conversations today are very different than before. It must stay the course, maintain an ambitious agenda and adapt to the realities of today. Its potential could be further exploited based on lessons learned from our collective response to Covid-19.

Mr David Beasley, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director: Last year was unprecedented, with conflict, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic creating record demand for humanitarian assistance – and there will be no let-up in 2021. This exceptional situation requires exceptional collaboration to ensure we reach the people we all serve. The Grand Bargain remains a key forum for making progress on critical issues such as funding, risk-sharing and localisation. But we need to go even further, linking these discussions into the work of the High-Level Panel on reducing needs and widening the resource base. It is an ambitious agenda for the year ahead.

Mr Jagan Chapagain, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Secretary-General: The Grand Bargain has supported real progress towards cultural and normative change in the humanitarian system on localisation. Looking forward to the Grand Bargain 2.0, our collective focus must be on meeting the needs, rights and aspirations of people we serve. Simply put – people must be at the centre of everything we do. We can only achieve real impact through local action and empowered local actors. Let us stop waiting for the perfect time to truly invest in localisation. Now is the time. And Covid-19 has given us the proof that such an investment makes a difference between life and death.

Ms Abby Maxman, Chair of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) and Oxfam America President and CEO: The past five years of investment under the Grand Bargain have resulted in some important progress. We welcome the increased political attention to driving real shifts in power to affected people and local responders. We applaud the growing use of cash programming and harmonised reporting, among many others. But we all need to do more to go beyond these incremental shifts and make a tangible difference on the ground for people affected by crises. Signatories are now at a critical juncture. We need a ‘Grand Bargain 2.0’ that is more inclusive of affected communities and local responders, grounded at the country level, and which connects political will to even higher ambitions to shrink need and centre gender equality

Grand Bargain Annual Independent Report 2021

Grand Bargain Annual Independent Report 2021 - Executive Summary.pdf

Grand Bargain Annual Independent Report 2021- Infographic.pdf