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Community Contribution

How to localize (and revolutionize) humanitarian aid? Insights from local actors in the Philippines

Feb 22, 2024
Florence Santos

Despite global aspirations to localize humanitarian response and shift decision-making authority, leadership, and resources to local actors in the lead up to and during emergencies, significant challenges remain. Enter the Humanitarian Partnership Platform (HPP) in the Philippines. Launched by CARE in 2015, HPP is a network of local NGOs, cooperatives, private companies, faith-based groups, and women’s organizations from across the Philippines, that work together to ensure a coordinated, rapid, scalable, and locally-led response to natural and man-made disasters. During non-crisis time, the Platform invests in capacity strengthening and planning for and testing preparedness measures. It switches to emergency mode during crises where it provides flexible funding and accompaniment to frontline responders.

Over the past year, local organizations in the network and communities have examined the platform through their own lens and shared their reflections, surfacing four significant shifts that offer tangible and actionable lessons on how to foster a more locally-led approach to rapid response and humanitarian action. 

  1. Flexible Funding has Enabled Rapid, Locally-Led Humanitarian Responses

First, let's talk numbers. Despite global commitments to accelerate localization in the humanitarian space, the latest data from 2022 reveals that only a mere 1.2% of humanitarian funding globally trickles down to local actors. Through the HPP, CARE Philippines has been able to channel 76% of its humanitarian expenditure directly to partners.

The game-changing move is simple: pre-authorize partners to access funds for rapid assessments and distributions. Glenda Plaza of the Agri-Aqua Development Coalition-Mindanao (AADC) highlights the impact: 

"For very small local organizations like ours, even if there’s a desire for a rapid assessment, it’s impossible without funds. With these funds made available without highly complex paperwork, we can promptly reach the affected areas." 

This isn’t just about funds; it’s about rewriting the partnership playbook.

  1. Centering Gender in Locally-Led Response

Next, let's zoom in with the gender lens. We’ve found that effective humanitarian response can’t just be locally-led – it must also be sensitive to the unique challenges and needs of populations that experience crises differently. For this reason, HPP doesn’t just treat gender as a checkbox; it's a key differentiator.  The HPP champions gender sensitivity through Rapid Gender Assessments, leading to responses that are gender-aware and sometimes, even gender transformative. A simple and highly practical example is that partners now include feminine hygiene products as part of basic needs in emergency responses, marking a notable shift in acknowledging and addressing the unique challenges faced by women and girls during disasters.

The numbers tell a story too: 88% of responses within the platform mainstream gender-based violence (GBV) protection, ensuring humanitarian response is locally-led, inclusive, and responsive to local needs. 

  1. More Effective Coordination and Partnership Across Diverse Local Actors

Now, picture this challenge: over 7,000 islands and an average of 20 typhoons annually. Coordination isn’t just necessary, it’s a lifeline. HPP’s networked model has fostered greater coordination, cooperation, and reach to the last mile during crises. The Platform facilitates and promotes regular face-to-face interactions among its members, including through quarterly general assemblies and joint activities where the agenda and objectives are co-created among the members. These general assemblies, which usually include a capacity-strengthening activity decided by its members, are consistently well attended, and all members are highly engaged because the topics align with their individual and collective interests. This ongoing practice contributes to trust- and relationship-building over time. That means members leverage one another’s resources and extend their networks and relationships to scale up responses during emergencies. Take Tropical Storm Megi Response, for instance. HPP member LCDE built on their own relationships with a group of local youth volunteers to move faster, and their innovative approach significantly expedited the Platform’s overall response. 

But it doesn’t stop at emergencies; this networked approach has also benefited advocacy efforts and policy changes. Members highlight that the HPP has helped strengthen partnerships, not just within the Platform, but also with local governments, the private sector, and other CSOs, helping members tap into these relationships and collective action to improve the enabling environment for disaster response and risk reduction.

  1. Centering the Response and Capacity Strengthening around the Needs and Perspectives of Local Partners and Communities 

Finally, let’s talk about local leadership. According to the local actors we spoke with, the HPP is more than just funding; it’s a hub for capturing and channeling the voices of communities and partners to shape the direction of emergency response activities.  To begin with, the Platform starts with goals the partners define to tailor capacity strengthening and knowledge sharing. For example, using the information partners’ provided about their highest priority needs, HPP introduced data management software that elevates members’ operational efficiency, and provided training for local emergency preparedness plans, contributing to enhanced response capabilities. 

The Platform has also scaled up the use of feedback tools to ensure that communities and participants regularly shape and guide emergency preparedness and response activities. In the last two years, 100% of projects have used feedback and accountability mechanisms, and 62% of the feedback received is from women and girls, ensuring their voices shape assistance that impacts their communities.

Stats describing the impact of HPP work

Lessons to Apply in Other Contexts

Implement Direct and Flexible Funds:

Let’s break the mold. Advocate for simple, long-term, and mutually-beneficial agreements for direct and flexible funds. Yes, this is operationally feasible. How? CARE Philippines maintains lean humanitarian staffing, structuring finance and operations to support emergency response through local organizations. HPP members have established emergency protocols based on long-term partnerships, including pre-existing Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs), Terms of References, and completed due diligence processes. This approach to partnership ensures that paperwork and administrative transactions are swiftly executed when emergencies occur, enabling CARE to channel funds quickly, and for local actors to take the lead in response efforts.

Articulate and Measure Impact Goals Beyond Partnerships and in Partnership with Local Actors and Communities:

It’s not just about partnering; it’s about making a tangible impact on communities facing humanitarian crises. It’s therefore important to set and measure clear impact and organizational performance goals, working closely with partners and communities to define and track measures of success. In addition, it’s important to tailor assistance to the unique needs of local communities and marginalized populations. Under the HPP, the intentional use of feedback and social accountability mechanisms (and other participatory approaches) in non-crisis times, during emergencies, and in the aftermath has ensured that responses are fit for purpose and tailored to the unique needs of communities facing crises.

In summary, there are practical and effective ways to promote localization of humanitarian response. By equalizing resource and power dynamics with local actors, fostering partnerships rooted in mutuality, collaboration, and knowledge sharing, ensuring the perspectives and needs of local communities shape the response, and putting gender at the center, the HPP provides promising lessons for accelerating locally-led humanitarian assistance. 


In the coming months, we will assess how the HPP is unfolding in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Nepal. Stay tuned.  

About the authors
Florence Santos

Florence Santos is the Director of Monitoring and Evaluation at CARE. She works to examine and measure complex social and systems change so the humanitarian and development programs I work in are more effective at advancing gender equality, saving lives, fighting against climate change, and finding lasting solutions to end poverty and injustice.