Delivering through partnerships - Interview with Marcus Prior, World Food Program

In the first session of the learning stream on humanitarian financing, participants identified complexities related to the UN system as one of the main challenges for NGO access to funding. On 12 October, the second session of PHAP’s and ICVA’s series on humanitarian financing will seek to unravel the difficulties in accessing UN humanitarian funding with two experts from major UN agencies: Fatima Sherif-Nor from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Marcus Prior from World Food Programme (WFP).

In view of the upcoming session, we had the opportunity to talk with Marcus, currently the Head of NGO Partnerships in the Partnerships, Advocacy and Coordination Division at WFP. With 75% of WFP’s food aid channeled through NGOs, and WFP recently committing to further increase funds to first responders after discussions around the “Grand Bargain,” questions regarding NGO partnerships and funding are central to the agency’s work.


Marcus, over the past few years, there has been a lot of discussions regarding humanitarian financing, including how to improve NGO access to funding. Why do you think this is such a relevant topic today?

Humanitarian needs are greater than ever, and although donors are also becoming more generous than ever, a significant gap persists between the growing humanitarian needs and the resources available to meet such needs. The Grand Bargain convened for the first time donors and other humanitarian actors in an attempt to decrease – or even close – this gap with a strong focus on improving the efficiency of the current humanitarian financing architecture. All actors in the humanitarian eco-system need to demonstrate their competitive advantage in specific areas in order to be considered for donor funding – WFP and NGOs are no different in this respect.

A large degree of your organization’s work is implemented through partner organizations. What are the main reasons for operating in this manner rather than implementing directly?

When there is proven expertise in the provision of food and nutrition assistance, delivering WFP aid through partner organizations often brings a cost-effective added-value to humanitarian action. For instance, national and local NGOs in the field have greater proximity to affected communities and specific contextual knowledge and understanding of community dynamics and needs. Therefore, they have better access to people in need, particularly in complex security environments, and they are able and ready to invest in capacity building with national partners. In addition, they usually complement our mandate, expertise and capacity, bringing along a potential for joint advocacy.

Do you think that the Grand Bargain will have an effect on how your structure your relationships with partner organizations?

Yes, definitely. First, if donors actively engage in multi-year funding, it would have a concomitant effect on WFP’s ability to manage partnerships in a much more flexible manner, and in some contexts, to potentially develop longer-term collaboration with key partners.

In addition, WFP is committed to passing at least 25 percent of its humanitarian funding as directly as possible to local and national first responders by 2020. Already 80 percent of WFP’s partners are national NGOs, and WFP is now prioritizing a capacity-strengthening approach which goes beyond our own need for properly capacitated operational partners.

Last but not least, WFP is closely working with UNHCR and UNICEF at an early stage on addressing the Grand Bargain commitment to harmonize and simplify reporting requirements and other partnership procedures with the purpose of reducing the administrative burden of our partners – the deadline for this initiative has been set for the end of 2018, although some elements may be delivered sooner. This joint action will initially focus on partner selection and capacity assessments, agreement templates and budgets, and reporting formats.

Join us on 12 October for the second session of the learning stream on humanitarian financing, UN humanitarian funding – demystifying NGO access, with Marcus Prior and Fatima Sherif-Nor, as well as NGO representatives. This learning session will provide an overview of some key procedures for UN partnerships and funding, with a focus on opportunities and challenges for NGOs. Read more and register at

Interview by Liz Arnanz, PHAP

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