Turn the humanitarian system on its head

In May 2016, the former United Nations General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon convened the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS). It brought together 9,000 delegates, 55 Heads of State and Government, and hundreds of civil society, non-governmental, academic and private sector organizations. For Oxfam, this was an opportunity to help shape a new global agenda, with our humanitarian partners sharing their expertise on a world stage.

Between 2007-2013, less than 2 percent of annual global humanitarian assistance went directly to local organizations and government entities. Oxfam is helping to shift this dynamic in two ways - by increasing the proportion of humanitarian funding that we allocated to local organizations to 30 percent by May 2018, and by influencing others to do the same through high profile conferences, such as the WHS.

Gone are the days when Oxfam’s humanitarian response involved the immediate dispatch of emergency supplies from warehouses in Europe or America. Instead, we are prioritizing building partnerships with responsible governments and organizations and strengthening their own capacity for response. The benefits of this approach are that we can help create a more sustainable system of humanitarian response; we are also able to work with communities to increase their resilience and ability to cope with future shocks.

Prior to the WHS summit, we held mini-summits in refugee camps in Tanzania and Western Sahara – asking questions and gathering responses – to ensure that the voices of those directly affected were heard in Istanbul. We also ensured that representatives of local organizations - our partners in humanitarian prevention and response – attended the summit to make their voices heard in debates and to meet decision makers at the highest level.

Working together with 22 other INGOs and over 120 local organizations, we called for a reorientation of the humanitarian system towards local agencies, urging them to sign up to a new way of working by signing a Charter for Change. Two Oxfam evidence-based reports - Commitment to Change and Turning the Humanitarian System on its Head were widely circulated in advance, strengthening our argument for a dramatic shift in the way the global community responds to humanitarian crises.

The key output of the UN Summit was the report: One Humanity, Shared Responsibility, which urged world leaders to commit to five responsibilities. The fifth emphasized a commitment to the 'Grand Bargain’, an agreement dedicated to giving more power and funds to local frontline NGOs invest in local capacities, especially in fragile situations where people are most vulnerable. It also acknowledged the funding gap in meeting humanitarian needs.