Towards the certification of humanitarian NGOs?

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On 20 September 2013, a discussion workshop on certification for the humanitarian sector organised by Groupe URD and Coordination SUD brought together representatives from ten NGOs in Paris. The Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response’s first draft certification model was analysed in detail. Important shortcomings were identified concerning the implementation process, certain fundamental issues and the reference framework on which certification will be based. Despite this, the participants were keen to continue the analysis which they had begun on issues of quality and accountability, and called for wider discussion within the humanitarian sector.

The SCHR’s Certification Project is currently exploring the potential benefits and limits of a certification mechanism to improve the quality, effectiveness and accountability of humanitarian action. At the end of June 2013, during the Humanitarian Standards Forum in Geneva, an initial review was presented and discussed, before a first draft certification model was made public in early September 2013.

Groupe URD, Coordination SUD and certain NGOs like Handicap International have been following this process closely. In conferences, workshops and consultations, requests for clarification have been made, questions have been raised about the objectives and methods of the certification project and the possible risks for NGOs of such an initiative have been highlighted in the absence of a precise structure and reference framework.

Beyond these exchanges with the facilitators of the SCHR project, Coordination SUD and Groupe URD felt that it was necessary to discuss this issue in greater detail to establish the conditions under which a certification system would work and identify the impacts that such a mechanism could have. Coordination SUD’s humanitarian commission and Groupe URD therefore organised a one-day French-language workshop on 20 September which brought together representatives from 10 humanitarian organisations. Though this initiative was independent of the SCHR project, the SCHR project facilitators were informed about it.

This report presents the results of the collective discussions during the workshop. It is aimed at the participants and their collaborators, but also other actors from the humanitarian sector. It aims to contribute to the collective discussion which is needed about these issues.

This one-day workshop allowed important shortcomings to be identified, with regard to the implementation process, fundamental issues and the reference framework which will be the basis of certification. The SCHR project currently seems to be basing certification on the ability to conform to technical norms and standards. But for fifteen years now the profession has become aware of the limits of such an approach due to the diversity of contexts. As such, the proposed method neglects an important element: whether or not an organisation, large or small, local or international, is engaged in a process of continuous improvement. If the risks linked to the certification project itself are not managed properly, it could have major negative impacts on the sector and notably on the smaller organisations in the North and the South [...]