How Can We Put People at the Centre of the World Humanitarian Summit?

Judith Greenwood

by Judith Greenwood

Former Executive Director of the CHS Alliance

Many of us who have the opportunity to attend the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul maybe be feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available: key messages, core commitments, key reports, side events, Special Sessions, High Level Roundtables etc. Like you, I want to be prepared for the WHS and make the most of this unique opportunity that we all have to make a positive difference to the lives and dignity of people affected by crisis.

Many of us who have the opportunity to attend the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul maybe be feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available: key messages, core commitments, key reports, side events, Special Sessions, High Level Roundtables etc. Like you, I want to be prepared for the WHS and make the most of this unique opportunity that we all have to make a positive difference to the lives and dignity of people affected by crisis. That’s why the CHS Alliance is calling on all humanitarian stakeholders at the WHS to commit to adopting, using and monitoring the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS).

During the World Humanitarian Summit consultations, a strong demand to put affected people at the heart of humanitarian action emerged as stated in the UN Secretary-General’s report: “We must return our focus to the people at the centre of these crises, moving beyond short-term, supply-driven response efforts towards demand-driven outcomes that reduce need and vulnerability”. 

The CHS puts people and communities affected by crisis at the centre of humanitarian action and speaks directly to the theme of the first-ever humanitarian summit of this kind.

What does putting people at the centre actually mean?

It means different things to different people. As Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, former Chief of the World Humanitarian Summit secretariat, said in the introduction to our 2015 Humanitarian Accountability Report: “To truly put people at the centre of humanitarian action, we must work together to make some major changes that will help humanitarian actors at all levels – local, national, regional and international – become more innovative, effective and accountable to the people and communities we aim to serve.”

For me, it makes me think of Amina, a community member who will speak at a WHS side event on quality and accountability jointly organised by the CHS Alliance, Sphere and Groupe URD (Monday 23 May, Rumeli Hall 3). Being her first trip abroad, I am so encouraged that she is not put off by her what seems quite a complicated process of getting to Istanbul. In order to get her passport application approved, she had to appear before a panel. Obtaining her visa is a complicated process involving numerous interviews, follow up emails etc. As well as this Amina does not speak one of the official UN languages so will travel with a translator for the duration of her trip (thanks to ActionAid for making this possible).

Amina is a great example of how putting people at the centre is one of the drivers of accountability that can lead to more efficient and effective aid, and, in Amina’s case, a good example of the critical role played by women. As a mother of four, she not only plays a key role within her family, she also advocates on behalf of communities and particularly women, to be included in the decision making process.

How does the CHS put people at the centre?

The CHS was developed with the idea that a single coherent and easy-to-use standard is more likely to be put into practice and make a difference in the lives of crisis-affected communities. It was designed as a verifiable standard and the CHS Alliance Verification Scheme offers organisations the possibility to measure their application of it. The CHS sets out Nine Commitments that organisations can use to improve the quality and effectiveness of the assistance they provide. They clarify the responsibilities of aid workers. Each of these commitments start with the communities and outline what communities can expect from organisations delivering humanitarian assistance. Knowing what these humanitarian organisations have committed to enables communities to hold them to account. When organisations commit to applying the CHS they put people at the centre of humanitarian action by committing to:

  • Deliver appropriate and relevant assistance that is effective and on time (CHS commitments 1 & 2),
  • Ensure communities are not negatively affected and strengthen local capacities (CHS commitment 3),
  • Base responses on communication, participation and feedback (CHS commitment 4),
  • Welcome and address complaints (CHS commitment 5),
  • Ensure people affected by crisis receive coordinated and complementary assistance (CHS commitment 6),
  • Improve assistance by learning from experience and reflection and ensuring staff are competent and supported (CHS commitments 7 & 8), and,
  • Manage resource effectively for their intended purpose (CHS commitment 9).

One of the commitments at the summit’s Special Session on “People at the Centre” is that all stakeholders should adopt the CHS, with clear benchmarks for achieving this. Over 240 organisations have already committed to adopt the CHS and are also applying its Nine Commitments in programmes worldwide.

The mission of the CHS Alliance is “to promote respect for the rights and dignity of people and communities vulnerable to risk and affected by disaster, conflict or poverty and enhance the effectiveness and impact of assistance by building a culture of quality and accountability”. The CHS is accordingly at the heart of all we do. The CHS Alliance self-assessment tool provides our members with the means to measure their application of the CHS.

At the summit, one of our members will make the following commitment on behalf of the CHS Alliance and its members: “The members of the CHS Alliance – over 240 national and international organisations working in more than 160 countries – commit to adopting, using and monitoring the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), with the objective of making humanitarian action more appropriate, effective, and responsive to the needs of people and communities affected by crises.” 

It has been quite a long, not to mention, expensive journey to get to the WHS. Let’s make the most of this opportunity by moving from the rhetoric that humanitarian action needs to be more appropriate, effective, and responsive to the needs of people and communities affected by crises – to taking action by adopting, using and monitoring the CHS.