The breakout session, on June 22 at Interaction Forum 2017, “Re-envisioning Partnership in Humanitarian Response: Insights from Syria”, organized by UOSSM USA was a lively discussion. The forum was moderated by Julien Schopp of Interaction, our panelists Mais Balkhi of Syrian Relief and Development, Hakan Bilgin of Dunya Doktorlari Dernegi (Doctors of the World), Dr. Lina Murad of Syrian American Medical Society, and Dr. Mahmoud Hariri of UOSSM International, shared their experiences and insights on the challenges of partnership between national and international NGOs and possible ways forward.
A variety of operational challenges have had a hand in shaping the response to the crisis. While Syrian NGOs are on the front lines, they face challenges such as transferring funds into Syria, finding and retaining qualified staff, not having a “seat at the table”, and obtaining donor funding. International organizations have the organizational infrastructure and experience to handle the banking, obtaining donor funding, and applying lessons learned from other humanitarian responses, but are not able to enter Syria and have faced challenges with registration and operations in neighboring countries.
The panelists hit on a fundamental truth for partnership- trust is essential. They spoke openly about the many factors that affect trust building for better or worse. For instance, they recognized that political objectives, either of donors or NGOs, might keep them skeptical of each other. Another factor is the tension between national organizations knowing the needs on the ground, while international organizations have learned lessons from other experiences that should be taken into consideration. A third factor is the recognition that there are risks of fraud, waste and abuse and that both national NGOs and international NGOs need to work together to reduce to ensure donors’ continued trust.
Looking forward, the panelists suggested several concrete recommendations. First, conduct thorough needs assessment in consultation with local authorities. Second, invite Syrian organizations to the table for strategic decision-making and planning. Third, coordinate carefully among all implementers and with local authorities to maximize scarce resources. Fourth, provide long term capacity building and mentoring to partners rather than workshops and conferences. Lastly, both national and international organizations alike should be open to criticism and learning that can improve how they deliver their much-needed services in a humanitarian response. These recommendations will inevitably lead to greater trust and deeper partnership.