Change in the Humanitarian Aid and development Sector Requires Empowering the Affected

2 November 2017

AidEx spoke to the executive director of the CHS Alliance, Judith Greenwood about her thoughts on AidEx 2017’s conference theme of ‘Aid and Development Effectiveness: Results Through Transparency and Accountability.

AidEx spoke to the executive director of the CHS Alliance, Judith Greenwood about her thoughts on AidEx 2017’s conference theme of ‘Aid and Development Effectiveness: Results Through Transparency and Accountability.’

What does transparency and accountability within the context of aid and development mean to you?

Transparency is openness, honesty and accessibility, while accountability refers to taking responsibility and being held to account for our actions. In our sector I believe they ensure that people and communities vulnerable to risk and affected by disaster, conflict or poverty, receive quality assistance, can influence the decisions that affect their lives, and can hold aid and development organisations to account. The Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), through the nine commitments, with the aim to improve the quality and accountability of humanitarian response, does exactly this by putting people and communities at the centre of aid work.

Do you think transparency is important to humanitarian aid and development? If so, why?

Transparency is one of the pillars of a fairer world by enabling all actors to gain access to information about decisions that affect us all. In the humanitarian context, it ensures that assistance is of good quality, reaches the intended recipients, and operations respect the rights and dignity of people and communities vulnerable to risk and affected by disaster, conflict or poverty. Transparency plays an important role in our work at the CHS Alliance. Many, if not all the CHS Alliance’s commitments build on it. It is for example, at the heart of Commitment 9 which is about managing resources effectively, efficiently and ethically. Naturally, this can only be achieved by being transparent.

How can we best encourage countries to implement transparency into their methods of working?

Transparency International’s recent report on enhancing accountability and transparency in emergencies claims that there is a need for ‘open and frank discussion at global and country levels on corruption risk’ to take the agenda forward. Besides being ‘transparent’ about the ongoing challenges, I think we can encourage countries to implement transparency by showing through case studies and best practices that committing to a ‘culture of openness’ benefits the whole sector. This is in line with the Grand Bargain on cost-effectiveness and localisation.

What is needed for transparency and accountability – what does it entail and what tools are required?

Transparency and accountability cannot be achieved without sector-wide involvement including the affected population, donor and host governments, national and international NGOs, civil society organisations, UN agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, private sector, religious leaders, and traditional leaders. Although dialogue is crucial, it is often not enough, therefore we think it is important to look into how the sector can be persuaded to adopt these values. In this regard, we have to collect evidence and share the results with the widest possible audience. It should not only be a top-down but also a bottom-up process, which is the reason why we believe that promoting the rights of the affected can be the engine of change.

Any emerging technologies you think will help revolutionise aid and development methods of operation? Perhaps any resources that will help prevent corruption and encourage accountability?

Technology is evolving so quickly and whilst there are some great examples, such as how the use of smart phones has revolutionised our lives and, particularly, provided a means for people and communities affected by crisis to have their voices heard.  The use of drones could potentially revolutionise how we deliver aid by reaching more remote areas and making the supply chain shorter, thus reducing opportunities for corruption and human error. However, we also need to be mindful that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and technology must not be seen in a vacuum.

What are the key barriers to more transparency in the sector?

This a simple question but one with a complex answer. At face value it is the lack of action from stakeholders, the lack of willingness to stand up against corruption and a lack of awareness or understanding of our rights.  However, it may also be linked to power dynamics, lack of understanding of the context, cultural differences or inequalities (perceived and/or real), and lack of trust between key stakeholders, to name but a few. I think that one of the main barriers can be unrealistic expectations related to the ‘quick fix’ syndrome and an unwillingness to acknowledge that this requires a longer-term investment.

Who has the most influence [to implement change] in the aid and development sector?

Regardless of who may be perceived as having the most influence, “implementing change” is about change management and behaviour, and culture plays a major role in making change happen.  Increasingly, the aid and development sector is referred to as the “humanitarian ecosystem”, which is a better reflection of the multiplicity of actors that have key roles to play, such as national (and local) governments, donor governments, national and international NGOS, the UN System, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, civil society, private sector, religious leaders, traditional leaders and others. Different stakeholders will assume a greater importance, depending on the context.

Do you see global transparency and accountability as achievable or will there always be cracks in the system/forms of corruption?

I think we have to aspire to global transparency and accountability, be pragmatic in our approach, and both adapt and adopt systems, policies, and procedures to ensure that we reduce the occurrence and frequency of corruption. When corruption is found, it must be addressed in a fair and transparent way. I believe the CHS provides a common reference framework for the humanitarian sector to be both transparent and accountable. By adopting it we can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of aid, and ultimately improve the lives of people and communities affected by crises.