Start Network

Decolonising and Localising Humanitarian Action

The Organisation: Start Network is made up of more than 50 humanitarian agencies across five continents, ranging from large international organisations to national and local NGOs. The Start Network’s vision is for a locally-led humanitarian system that is accountable to people most affected by and at risk of crises. In pursuit of this vision, Start Network is investing in efforts to:

  • Shift power and decision-making to locally led networks and organizations.
  • Creating a humanitarian financing system that is focused on reducing risk, as well as anticipating and acting ahead of crises.
  • Supporting communities to develop innovative solutions to humanitarian challenges. 

Taking steps towards these challenges requires Start Network Members to act together, and to commit to the need for transformational change, both within and external to their own organizations.

Why localising humanitarian action matters: The humanitarian system’s concentration of power, influence, and resources within the global North has led to the exclusion and disempowerment of local and national actors. These organisations are deeply rooted in the communities that they support and are responsible for most humanitarian responses. This imbalance of power is maintained through a highly risk-averse and compliance-heavy operating culture that prevents local organisations from taking leading roles and accessing direct funding. Tackling this problem requires moving towards a system that is accountable to affected and at-risk communities through the leadership of local organisations and through a change in mindset by traditional power holders that allows them to cede power and control.

How we help: Start Network commissioned Day Four Projects to build a shared understanding of their INGO members – how they are structured, how they are governed, and the financial models that underpin their work. We provided the Start Network with useful insights into practical options for addressing commonly encountered challenges for INGOs in operating in a locally-led Hub approach.

This project sought to:

  • Map Start Network INGO member organisations’ organisational, governance, and financing structures, and identify if a useful typology of INGOs may exist
  • Identify which elements (legal, governance, financial) of these structures may challenge or prevent INGOs from working in a decentralised network model of dispersed membership and decision making
  • Use an approach informed by appreciative enquiry to understand how and why experiences of shifting to a more decentralised model or ways of working have been successful for INGOs
  • Develop practical considerations and a roadmap for Start Network to support INGOs to enable the transition to the decentralised network model.