A new global network for local and national organizations was launched on 22nd May 2016, on the eve of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. NEAR (Network for Empowered Aid Response) hopes to close the widening gap between aid resources and people in need.
The urgent need for the NEAR network was made dramatically clear at Sunday’s launch by Ms. Naomi Tulay-Solanke, a network member and Executive Director of Community Health Initiative in Liberia. She spoke of innovation that exists among local actors that is either not recognized or is co-opted by international organizations.
A similar experience was shared by Mr. Azwar Hasan, who survived and responded during the Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated Aceh and many other places in 2004. Mr. Hasan, Executive Director of Forum Bangun Aceh and member of NEAR, expressed concern over the billions of dollars raised by the international community and yet, when international aid providers left the region, there was no sustainable local response capacity left behind. As Mr. Hasan put it:
“If the Tsunami happened again, I don’t think we would be better prepared to respond.”
That’s precisely one of the reasons behind the creation of NEAR. Mr. Claus Sorensen, former Director General of ECHO, described NEAR as “the first baby of the World Humanitarian Summit” as NEAR was launched at a standing-room-only event in Istanbul on Sunday 22nd May 2016.
In a keynote opening speech Mr. Fuat Oktay, President of AFAD, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, said: “The reason we are gathered here is because more and more people believe that the humanitarian system cannot cope with the challenges of today.”
The president applauded the formation of NEAR, calling it the new way to engage local organisations and communities so they’re better able to deliver humanitarian and emergency aid. He said today’s challenges call for innovation, creativity and courage.
NEAR makes aid more local
The name NEAR was deliberately chosen by the new network to acknowledge the vital role played by its local members, who are closer to their communities and often first to respond in times of crisis.
NEAR is absolutely not about creating a system where there’s zero international involvement or support. It is about redressing the balance. Degan Ali, the chair of the network’s Leadership Council (and Executive Director of NEAR founder’s Adeso), explains: “We want a system that is an enabler and respectful of the capacity of national governments and local communities.”
Manu Gupta of SEEDS, and also on NEAR’s Leadership Council, says there’s a need to create a harmonious system based on mutual trust, accountability and equity between everyone involved.
“In the past, south to south collaborations have had to go from south to north and then north to south.”
The future is NEAR
The launch of the NEAR network comes at a time when the world is convening in Istanbul to chart a new path for the humanitarian system. Many involved in the system are making commitments about the part they plan to play in achieving this alternative system.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Rezaul Karim Chowdhury of COAST Trust Bangladesh and the Treasurer of NEAR, announced NEAR’s commitments for the World Humanitarian Summit. He said that the network will be a decentralized movement that will monitor the progress of localization beyond the summit through publishing of an annual report focusing on the progress made on all the commitments linked to improving the power imbalance with local communities and organizations. Specifically, the network will conduct research to gauge the transaction cost in delivering aid and how much of the humanitarian funding is reaching local organizations.
Claus Sorensen has also advised NEAR to “keep an eye” on one of the key commitments emerging from the ‘Grand Bargain’ (in the recent Humanitarian Financing report) concerning a 25% increase in all humanitarian funding to local and national organizations by 2020.
As Scholastica Nasinyama, a Leadership Council member of NEAR and the Executive Director of InterAid Uganda says, this is only the first step for the network. “We are looking forward to a long but exciting journey of creating a truly transformative humanitarian and development system.”
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