Accountability to whom?

30 September 2020
Principled Partnership

Accountability to Affected Populations has been a long-standing discussion in the aid sector. In 2006 the multi sector thematic tsunami evaluation report “Impact of International response on local capacities” provided some key recommendations focused on local actors and Accountability To Affected Populations. During the World Humanitarian summit in 2016 there was a renewed call to accelerate progress. Commitment 6 of the Grand Bargain urges humanitarian actors to enable a ‘participation revolution’ i.e. “include people receiving aid in decisions which affect their lives”. The Common Humanitarian Standard encourages humanitarian actors to create situations where “communities and people affected by crisis know their rights and entitlements, have access to information and participate in decisions that affect them.”

What is becoming more evident for local actors is that Accountability to Affected Populations can only become possible when there is Principled Partnership which creates a mutually trustful environment and where accountability is not one-way, but two-ways – not only upward but downward as well. And it requires behavioral change from both partners. Principled Partnership means co-designing and co-creating processes with partners and the community. For localization can only happen with an Empowering Partnership that requires tilting of power imbalance.

Power source in humanitarian system has been centered on Funding, which certainly dictates relations. How we view funding then matters – is it the end? Or is it a means towards achieving mutually agreed aim of reaching the most affected. Funding in relation to localization therefore is not only about ‘how much’, but ‘how’ such funding transform lives, transform conditions of people, transform systems.

Promoting a survivor and community-led response 

Member of A4EP, ECOWEB in Philippines is promoting the Survivor and Community-Led Response (SCLR) approach which puts the communities at the center of the response. As a local NGO operating nationally, this is how we put accountability to affected populations into practice. SCLR has 5 major components:

First, the approach is helping crisis affected communities rapidly analyse their own situations using an appreciative inquiry approach to increase motivation and identify ideas and opportunities for holistic self-help. From the beginning, the approach recognizes that crisis-affected people are not victims but survivors and that "communities" are not homogeneous - they are women, men, younger, older, different ethnicities and religions, with varying capacities as well as vulnerabilities; with different levels of power, and with capacities to all get involved. This entails a longer-term process that needs continuing analysis of lessons from subsequent actions, thus needing leadership by the crisis affected population themselves.

IDP women sit in a circle to discuss during Participatory Action Learning in the Philippines

Second, it is helping crisis affected communities to rapidly turn opportunities for increased self-help into action using rapid microgrants (or other rapid capacity development, such as skills training and linking/connecting) that transcend humanitarian-development divide. This ensures timely and relevant support to needs of the crisis affected through a process that strengthens their existing capacities, based on the belief that people know what they can and how they can better help themselves with the assistance received. This avoids wastage of the limited humanitarian resources that is observed in many big and rapid externally-led responses, where some goods distributed just end up in the market. Noodles and sardines received usually end up being sold for vegetables; some in-kind goods including excess water containers end up in the market in exchange of cash for transportation of children to school, medicines, among other needs.

Third, it is using local peer group mechanisms to maximize accountability (often to greater levels than present in externally-delivered aid). The Self-help Groups decide and establish accountability mechanism with facilitation by the aid worker. This is a mechanism that not only ensures upward accountability but downward and sideward accountability as well.

At the onset of our emergency response to the Marawi crisis, I could remember a remark of one IDP in the evacuation camp who received the family cash grant that we provided through a process that involved the IDPs in planning, budgeting, prioritizing, distributing, reporting and monitoring. She remarked: "Why is it that many of those who want to help us don’t see that we still have the capacity to buy and cook for our own even though we are evacuees?”


Fourth, it is using appropriate coordination to ensure external actors (e.g. aid NGOs, Government and UN agencies) fill-in the gaps and support needs that cannot be met through self-help mechanisms. This is done as well by empowering crisis affected communities to link and represent themselves in engaging with the government and other agencies.

Finally, the SCLR approach keeps the process, energies and connections to encourage and support communities through their self-help mechanisms in coordination with other social structures. And the process does not only focus on providing humanitarian support for survival but also encourage to start tackling as well root causes of their vulnerability and exposure to crises. It enables the Self-help Groups, and communities with other responding groups, to interface concern on resilience and disaster risk reduction. An important aspect to ensure in the process is Doing-No-Harm. SCLR ensures interventions are not creating or exacerbating conflicts, as well as sensitivity to culture and context.

Showing the impact of survivor and community-led response approach, ECOWEB hopes to challenge the notions and assumptions of many internationals who are still not convinced about localization. Experiences of many local actors show that localization may only become possible when there is a real change in the way humanitarian response is conceived, designed and implemented. There is a need to redesign the Humanitarian Systems and redefine the Principles, Values, and Purpose that really reflect the aspirations of local responders and the people we seek to protect, assist and serve. The Participation Revolution can only succeed when the issue of power is more systematically addressed.

Localization is not only about the transfer of more resources to local actors, but also requires revolutionary change in the systems and processes to enable real participation of the major stakeholders in decision-making of aid. It is about power and it is about challenging the barriers that perpetuates power imbalance brought about by centuries of unequal relationships in the power structures. The formalistic complaints and response mechanisms and other accountability mechanisms are not adequate enough to address the more deep-seated problems, attitudes, behavior and mindsets.

As a development organization doing humanitarian work in times of crisis, ECOWEB sees localization as an opportunity to address unequal relationships between aid providers and recipients. Localization is concrete action to address historical injustices, inequality and power imbalance. And it is an important step towards enabling the crisis-affected to take charge of their own lives and work for their resilience and a more sustainable future. 

Written by Regina "Nanette" Salvador-Antequisa, with contributions from Smruti Patel.
Quote by the author.
Picture: Participatory Action Learning in Crisis with IDPs in Baloi, the Philippines, 2019. Courtesy of ECOWEB.