Start for Change: Collaboration to Future-Proof the Humanitarian System

I was delighted to attend the Start Network’s annual conference Start for Change. During the event, we announced a new partnership between Start Network and GlobeScan, aiming to make progress toward the creation of a global humanitarian aid movement and to make strides toward enhanced engagement with stakeholders.
The Start Network focusses on collaboration within the humanitarian aid system across three areas:

  • Financing for emergency response (Start Fund)
  • Strengthen civil society capacity (Start Build)
  • Innovation through partnerships and learning (Start Beta)

It struck me during the day how crucial the key tenet of collaboration really is here, underpinning progress across all three areas. As Doug Miller, President of GlobeScan Foundation, summed up in his closing remarks, accountability, advocacy, cooperation, and redefining engagement are crucial aspects for the humanitarian sector to focus on, at a time when levels of trust and hope amongst the global public are precariously low. Start Network itself is a huge step in the right direction – collaboration among NGO actors with the same overarching goals and with the ultimate aim of improving access to aid for those who need it most. Few could scoff at that objective.

Pictured: Doug Miller, GlobeScan Chairman and President of the GlobeScan Foundation (Photo credit)

The first step is for humanitarian organisations themselves to work together where their goals align in order to move the sector forward. The second, even bolder step is to look beyond the traditional humanitarian system, toward a “whole of society approach,” a more decentralised and locally democratic approach which listens and empowers beneficiaries across the world. This was a recurring theme throughout the day.
For this to happen we will need to see significant shifts in terms of partnership models and engagement methods. One element to this is collaboration with non-traditional stakeholders such as the private sector, already operating on the ground worldwide. As Chair David Alexander humorously put it, perhaps it’s time for humanitarian NGOs to move away from seeing the corporate sector as “the devil incarnate” and to take learnings from the sector’s collaboration with governments, which is often perceived as a necessary step to effective action locally.
Indeed, in this year’s GlobeScan SustainAbility Survey on leadership, the ability to collaborate is identified as the most important attribute of leadership for NGOs. Verbatim responses to the survey reveal a strong sense amongst sustainable development experts that it is by working together that we will meet shared goals and make real progress.
A personal reflection on the private sector’s collaboration with the humanitarian system was given by Clare Bebbington, Group Head of External Affairs at Petrofac and one of the few corporate delegates in the room. Clare was right to advocate for improved mutual understanding, while cautioning about the risks of partnerships without this basis of appreciation and preparation. As Clare highlighted, while NGO-corporate partnerships for development are increasingly commonplace, there are remarkably few examples of successful humanitarian collaboration. A GlobeScan SigWatch webinar last week also identified some of the challenges of NGO-company collaboration. Shared understanding of mutual objectives is crucial.
If we want to see more effective partnerships among actors, we need to start proactively asking each other what shared objectives we are trying to achieve, how we can support each other to meet these goals, and to learn from recent examples of collaboration, successful or otherwise. This would be one step on the journey toward a more holistic and locally devolved humanitarian system.

GlobeScan and the Start Network will be hosting a collaboration forum in the autumn as a follow up to the #StartforChange conference

Pictured: GlobeScan Research Analyst, Marie-Solène Prudhomme (Photo credit)