The CHS Alliance and the World Humanitarian Summit

22 September 2015
Alex Jacobs

by Alex Jacobs

Alex Jacobs is the Director of Programme Quality at Plan International.

Alex Jacobs, Director of Programme Quality, Plan International, spoke at the London launch of the CHS Alliance, discussing the importance of working together to make the most of the World Humanitarian Summit. He shares his speaking notes in this guest blog post.

I was delighted to speak at the launch of the CHS Alliance in London yesterday. I urged everyone involved to work together to make the most of the unique World Humanitarian Summit. Here are my speaking notes.

Firstly, I’m delighted to be speaking at this important launch. The Core Humanitarian Standard is a milestone. We should all welcome it, creating a common basis for defining quality and effectiveness in humanitarian response. It is so admirably people-centred, and makes so many other things possible. And the creation of an organisation to promote and develop it is also a milestone. If it didn’t exist, it would have to be invented. The sector needs both the CHS and the CHS Alliance!

Congratulations to all involved in creating both – and to all who support the CHS. For the good of the sector, we need to make sensible compromises in support of common tools and standards, even if we do not agree with every word of them. And I’m delighted to see this happening.

The 2015 Humanitarian Accountability Report: “On the Road to Istanbul” is a state of the art analysis of current practice, particularly in relation to accountability. The range and depth of the content is truly impressive, from the leading voices in our field. It is a landmark publication, in the best tradition of previous work by HAP and People In Aid.

Turning to the World Humanitarian Summit, I have been working with the secretariat over the last year, with a specific focus on “community engagement in humanitarian response”.

As I’m sure you know, a vast consultation has been undertaken with input from 23,000 people and many expert contributions. A powerful analysis is emerging of the obstacles that actively prevent “community engagement”. A wide range of solutions are also being proposed, many building on existing good practices by many colleagues.

You’ll be relieved to hear that I don’t have time to go into details now! (If you are interested, I gave a speech in Manchester on this last week, available on Plan International’s website.) The top line is that we need to create a new enabling environment that actively encourages and rewards busy field teams for engaging better with communities. This means ensuring consistent leadership for community engagement, addressing the ‘contract culture’ of winning and delivering grants, and collaborating together on common solutions for how agencies engage with communities, and how field work is funded.

But the WHS secretariat can only focus on a handful of issues, that need political decisions at the highest level. So, there’s an urgent need for leadership to make sure we use the WHS process to drive change. We all have a role to play in that. We need to come together around a shared agenda, so we can use the summit itself to announce concrete commitments. It offers us a powerfully charged political moment for common action – it’s up to us to choose to use it.

One other point. I was at a conference on Humanitarian Effectiveness in Manchester last week. It included a great deal of discussion about improving the quality and accountability of humanitarian work. A range of exciting ideas were raised, that resonated with the WHS process. For instance, there was support for the idea of an independent body that could report the voices of affected peoples at the highest levels of decision making. It was suggested that the Humanitarian Quality Assurance Initiative could make a very important contribution by doing this. Interestingly, no voices were raised in favour of ‘certification’ as a priority to improve practice. This is serious food for thought.

Looking ahead, we have eight months before the summit. That’s just enough time to do what needs to be done. “On the Road to Istanbul” claims the space of accountability and community engagement. The opportunity now is to work with others (like Sphere, CDAC, the IASC Task Team on AAP and others including those working on other standards) to bring operational agencies and donors together around a shared agenda for reform; build support along with practical solutions; and be ready to announce concrete commitments in May. This could well build on identifying what it really takes to implement the CHS – which is a big undertaking within INGOs like Plan International.

It’s a unique prospect that won’t come again. The timing coincides perfectly with today’s launch. It is up to us make the most of this superb opportunity to move from analysis to action.