FOCUS – Where do we go from here? Handicap International’s involvement in the follow-up of the Grand Bargain | July 24, 2017

On June 20, 2017 the very first Annual Grand Bargain Meeting was held in Geneva to keep abreast of its progress. Numerous stakeholders are involved in this displayed commitment to better serve people in need. But what exactly is Handicap International doing in all this? And what’s at stake?     On June 20, 2017 […]

On June 20, 2017 the very first Annual Grand Bargain Meeting was held in Geneva to keep abreast of its progress. Numerous stakeholders are involved in this displayed commitment to better serve people in need. But what exactly is Handicap International doing in all this? And what’s at stake?



On June 20, 2017 the very first Annual Grand Bargain Meeting was held in Geneva. This gathering was the occasion for the signatories of the Grand Bargain to take stock of the situation on what is seen by many as the number one agreement which came out of the World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul, Turkey, in May 2016.

But what are we talking about exactly? What is the Grand Bargain and what can we expect from it? And what role does Handicap International (HI) play in its development and implementation?

What is the Grand Bargain?

At the World Humanitarian Summit, hundreds of commitments and about twenty initiatives were brought forward.

One of them was the Grand Bargain.

It was first proposed in January 2016 by the former UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing in its report “Too Important to Fail: addressing the humanitarian financing gap” as one of the solutions to address the humanitarian financing gap.

Made out of fifty-two commitments categorized within ten work streams, the Grand Bargain strives for a series of changes in the working practices of donors and aid organizations that should deliver an extra billion dollars over five years for people in need of humanitarian aid. Among other things, these fifty-two commitments include gearing up cash programming, greater funding for national and local responders and cutting overheads through harmonized and simplified reporting requirements and reduced bureaucracy.

The Grand Bargain is a baseline for agreement and its operational implementation is still being discussed today. Following the discussions held within each work stream is time consuming, and their expected impacts remain somehow unclear. Besides, one cannot always contribute appropriately and creatively to each and every topic discussed. Consequently, Handicap International collegially decided to focus on three work streams.

What role does Handicap International play in the operational development

                                                                                                         and implementation of the Grand Bargain?

The three work streams identified as being of particular interest for Handicap International are: work stream 2, national and local responders; 4, reduce management costs; and 9, harmonized and simplified reporting requirements. They are the ones debated here today.

However, one should know that some of HI’s staff members follow-up the discussions debated within other work streams to remain informed.

Work stream 2: national and local responders

The original vision of the Grand Bargain was to negotiate a deal between the five largest donors and six largest UN agencies, particularly to help address the ‘trust deficit’. Based on recommendations from the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), NGOs were later included in the negotiations. One of the points that came up was the lack of involvement of national and local responders in the delivery of aid.

Consequently, the Grand Bargain decided to commit donors and aid organizations to providing 25% of global humanitarian funding as directly as possible to local and national responders. The objective pursued is to improve outcomes for affected people and reduce transnational costs by 2020.

The intention is laudable: of course, the main people concerned by a conflict or natural catastrophe must be involved in the response. However, there is more than meets the eye…

First, this commitment does not take into consideration the fact that international NGOs like Handicap International always deliver aid and implement projects on the ground thanks to and through national and local partners. In 2015 for instance, Handicap International worked with 1,113 national and local partners to implement more than 300 projects.

Second, what is presently defined as national and local responders by the negotiators or Sherpas of this work stream, namely Switzerland and the IFRC, seems to exclude more spontaneous first aid responders such as peer-support groups. This ambiguity in the definition of terms might actually prevent what was originally planned: to empower those directly affected and foster the development of a network of first responders.

Third, a great number of local and national responders do not have yet the capacities to deal with the reporting, evaluation or accounting requirements imposed by most regional and international donors. Thus, if donors and aid organizations were to truly commit to providing 25% of global humanitarian funding to local and national responders as directly as possible, one would first have to make sure that the local and national responders in question have the means and internal capacities to take on greater responsibilities.

To this extent, Handicap International welcomes the latest progresses achieved by the ‘Localization work-stream’, which highlight the need to “address and define what quality funding, quality partnership, and effective and principled humanitarian action looks like for local and national humanitarian actors, as well as elaborating on the type of investment and capacities needed in local and national organizations.” However, we, as an organization, worry that measures imposed on us by some major national, regional or international donors, such as counter-terrorism measures, may prevent us from actually training some local and national responders.

Fourth, at present, donors themselves, in their approach to humanitarian assistance, are jeopardizing the commitment to providing 25% of global humanitarian funding to local and national responders, by preventing some of them from using lighter financial and / or narrative reporting. Consequently, it is unlikely that in a near future donor agencies may be able to directly run this objective, which is more the result of a political decision rather than that of a comprehensive analysis of local and national responders’ needs and capacities. What’s more likely is that most of the burden affiliated with this objective will fall on the shoulders of international NGOs, and some worry NGOs might become the transmission belt which will enable donors to respect their engagement without having to bear any of the financial or administrative costs…

Last but certainly not least, in complex and sensitive political contexts, national and local responders are sometimes used by national authorities to keep INGOs away, especially when it comes to rights violations, exactions and abuses, ethnic clashes, refugee or migration flows, etc. However, local actors are more easily subjected to political pressures from their government and local authorities and very often, they do not have the capacities or indeed the willingness to implement a principled humanitarian action or conflict-sensitive approaches. Moreover, they may not be at liberty to come forward in case of exactions or protection issues…

Work stream 4: reduce management costs

Most of the initiatives launched within this work stream are being led by the UN procurement network and two Sherpas, the UNHCR and Japan. They leave little space for NGOs involvement. However, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has been commissioned to conduct a study on the impact of donor conditionalities on NGOs. At the end of March 2017, it presented its first findings to peers and partners, among which Handicap International.

NRC identified three levels of challenges:

  • sectoral ones that is to say those imposed by most donors;
  • donor-specific ones;
  • and finally, internal ones that is to say those which result from NRC’s own organization.

The need for harmonizing cost classifications and financial reporting are two of the main findings of NRC’s study. Thus, as pointed out by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) in its briefing paper “The Grand Bargain: Everything you need to know” (February 2017), this work stream is not only one of the most concrete of the ten work streams; it is also closely linked to simplified and harmonized reporting.

Work stream 9: harmonized and simplified reporting requirements

According to all stakeholders, there is a need for harmonizing and simplifying both the financial and narrative reporting NGOs are subjected to. NRC’s study focused more particularly on NGOs’ financial reporting requirements and given its findings, it suggested developing a common system to classify administrative, support and direct program costs, as well as universal definitions of key terminology. In addition, it encouraged the humanitarian sector to come up with a universal template to facilitate financial reporting from implementing partners to donors.

Once again, the intention is laudable. Yet, there are challenges to NRC’s plan.

First, it is hard to imagine having every NGO follow either a common classification or terminology for reporting: harmonizing everyone’s practice is going to be a challenge in itself, not to mention the challenge posed by the definition of a common classification or terminology… NGOs do not indeed all have the same mandate or follow the same intervention guidelines. Consequently, it is hard for them to all abide by the same standardized reporting practices. Humanitarian response needs some diversity that implies to assume some discrepancies.

Second, having a unique reporting system leaves little leeway for discussions… and this might come at the expense of NGOs rather than donors or UN agencies. As a matter of fact, depending on what the template looks like, donors could ‘hide’ behind what comes out of the Grand Bargain to refuse to partially or completely cover certain costs such as security or advocacy costs when they may have used to in the past.

With regard to harmonized and simplified narrative reporting, a pilot project was launched in June 2017 by Germany and ICVA, with the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) providing technical support for design, data gathering, and analysis. This pilot will test the benefits of harmonizing donor narrative reporting, focusing on three case studies: Iraq, Somalia, and Myanmar. Currently, at least eleven governments and UN agencies are committed to participate as donors, and more than twelve NGOs, among which Handicap International, committed to join.

Mapping is currently underway to identify specific projects in the pilot countries that are funded by participating donors and implemented by participating NGOS that will be included in the pilot. As far as HI is concerned, projects in Myanmar and Iraq have already been identified and selected for the test phase. It is expected that as of 1 August 2017, reporting for these projects will shift to using the proposed “8+3” harmonized reporting template provided by GPPi. As for the results, a final report is expected mid-2019.

Why should NGOs such as Handicap International take part in the Grand Bargain?

Handicap International intends to remain involved in the discussions initiated by the World Humanitarian Summit, and particularly the ones related to the Grand Bargain, as their results might impact the way we fund or implement our activities in a not-so-distant future. However, it is important such debates do not absorb too much time or energy, especially as they address issues discussed in multiple fora at the international level. Besides, our time, our energy and the funds we receive are better spent when they are dedicated to our operational impact and activities; and this explains why HI will remain selective in its contributions.


To learn more about the follow-up of the World Humanitarian Summit.

To learn more about the Grand Bargain.


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