Reverse the lens and put people at the centre!

28 September 2020
The problem is complex: are we missing the point? Shouldn’t we be connecting the dots

Involving communities at local levels, from the onset of any activity or strategy, is the priority. But we try to fit triangles into square cells - i.e. we silo ideas and do not connect them up well - and it doesn’t work. We need to break down these silos between topics and tools and be more creative in order to deliver a truly ‘people-centered approach’. Our overarching humanitarian principles are what make us unique. They are our ‘umbrella’, maybe with triangles as pieces of the puzzle. And these triangles do not fit into square cells, into silos, through a logical pathway. Or maybe they could with a little more imagination? Have a closer look!

Solutions are neither simple nor ‘one-size fits all’: reverse the lens, have a closer look and focus on PEOPLE!

We should not categorize ‘beneficiaries’ from an organization or agency perspective and through projects; we should rather look at people and communities’ perspectives and own choices and build up mechanisms that give them a ‘say’, a voice… power! Of course it takes more time than creating our own projects internally, and it is less grand; it could even create uncomfortable power shifts for some, but it is more meaningful, better informed, and more empowering. We should therefore change the narrative, reverse the lens, and start with the people as the basis for our programming, thereby adopting a truly ‘people centered approach!’ This implies concretely huge flexibility from all actors.

Just do it: ‘Put the Human back into Humanitarian’!

The ‘so-called’ cross cutting issues – Quality, Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP), inclusion, Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA), centrality of protection, localization, etc. come together under an overarching Human Rights Based Approach. Let’s recall and restate our humanitarian principles and charter. Cross cutting issues can’t just be stored in silos: they are ingredients of the same recipe with each also having its own unique flavour, depending on who the cooks are and the local taste.

Silhouette of a young woman against a colorful background
It happened: we broke the silos…

Last year, the connection between a few humanitarian actors from as far as Karachi, Gaziantep, Geneva, and Addis Ababa made the recipe a success! A few women coming from distinct horizons – UN agencies, local Network, national NGO, freelance consultants and inter-agency projects and standards, with donor support - came together with empathy and hunger for change.

The collaboration resulted in a powerful learning strategy built on Quality and AAP, which was locally owned through a bottom-up approach. It eventually developed into a joint help desk and peer coaching for practitioners to support implementation of those ‘cross cutting issues’ through overall mainstreaming. It took time but trust was there, as well as full support and flexibility from the joint project leaders and funders – including acceptance for creativity and adjustment on the way, based on ongoing learning and users’ feedback: a team spirit that transcended agencies, egos, and power dynamics.

Let’s dream!

Let’s accept that it may not fit perfectly into a logical framework, a programme cycle or a report format… Considering cross-cutting issues jointly and in a comprehensive manner, through an overarching people centered framework linked to a Human Rights Based Approach, can leverage people and communities’ legitimacy in making their own choices and having a say in decisions that affect their lives.

Picture: ©UNICEF/Tremau