Partnership, Partnership: NGO Cooperation within the Global Humanitarian Platform

Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris
Elizabeth Ferris Former Brookings Expert, Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration - Georgetown University

September 26, 2007

Partnership is a nice word. It has a warm feeling to it. It is well-understood. For example, my husband is my partner. My colleagues are my partners in our work. The Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement works with partner institutions in many parts of the world. Partnership is a nice word.

The word partnership has a long history in the humanitarian community. For years, UNHCR has worked with implementing partners – which is not quite as warm a term as just partner – but certainly better than ‘subcontractor.’ Parinac, or ‘partnership in action’ was based on the recognition that if partnership is to be meaningful, it must be more than just nice words. Action is required. Joint action.

Today I want to focus on partnerships within the NGO community. Usually at these meetings we focus on the UNHCR-NGO relationship or partnership and we’re usually quite critical. But the fact is that UNHCR is one of the best UN agencies in terms of dialogue and access to NGOs. There is much to be done to make the UNHCR-NGO relationship a true partnership, but I want to focus on the partnerships among NGOs.

Take a minute and look around this room. More than 200 NGOs are present today, from every region. There are large international NGOs which have budgets which are close to – or surpass — that of UNHCR. There are small national NGOs which have only a handful of staff. Some of the NGOs here today work on a whole range of issues, including refugees and IDPs, but also development and peacebuilding and democracy and HIV/AIDS and the environment. Some are quite specialized and focus exclusively on refugees. Some are vocal opponents of their governments while many get along quite well with their governments. Many of the NGO representatives here have attended these consultations for several years. For some this is their first exposure and even their first trip to Geneva. In fact, I should say that this group isn’t typical of the broader NGO humanitarian community because you are here! You’ve been able, one way or another, to scrape together the airfare and to survive Geneva’s expensive prices. You can also go to sleep tonight reasonably secure that your hotel won’t be bombed.

The Global Humanitarian Platform is an initiative to bring together the three main families of humanitarian actors on an equal footing – non-governmental organizations, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, and UN and other intergovernmental agencies – in order to increase the effectiveness of humanitarian response. The July 2007 meeting of the Global Humanitarian Platform adopted ‘principles of partnership’ which are to serve as a basis for relationships within and between the three families of actors. Let me review these principles:

  • Equality
  • Transparency
  • Result-oriented approach
  • Responsibility
  • Complementarity

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