Partnerships and principles in conflict contexts:
Voices from Nigeria and South Sudan

Event description

Partnerships between international organizations and local actors are key for the delivery of principled humanitarian aid. While progress has been made through the Principles of Partnership, much more is needed to implement these principles. This is particularly true for applying the humanitarian principles in conflict contexts – the delivery of principled humanitarian aid is a challenging endeavour in these settings that requires continuous attention.

In the second half of 2020, two research teams engaged with more than 123 local actors operating in the humanitarian delivery space in the states of North Eastern Nigeria and South Sudan to investigate how partnerships and humanitarian principles were implemented. The research made interesting findings related to perceptions of double standards and difficulties with operationalising humanitarian and partnership principles, that the set of principles must operate in combination to secure principled humanitarian assistance in local contexts, and a lack of shared understanding between partners of what principled humanitarian action means in practice. Based on their discussions, the investigators are suggesting new and stronger models of humanitarian partnership that are more equitable, accountable to local actors and which take collective responsibility for principled delivery of humanitarian aid.

On 2 June, we organized a launch event of the report based on this research. We were joined by the principal investigators from both research teams and representatives of local organizations in these two contexts, as well as experts on global policy, to discuss the results and their implications.

Recommended resources


The report was produced with the assistance of the Partnership Brokers Association.

Event recording (YouTube)

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Event recording (audio podcast)

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Olukayode Soremekun (Sbaba) Olukayode Soremekun (Sbaba) Principal investigator for the report, Associate of the Partnership Brokers Association, and Associate Director of Enterprise for Development International (EfDI)
Jok Madut Jok Jok Madut Jok Principal investigator for the report, Senior Policy Analyst, Sudd Institute and Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Syracuse University, New York
Gloriah Soma Gloria Soma Director, Titi Foundation
Veronique Barbelet Veronique Barbelet Senior Research Fellow, ODI/HPG
Jonas Vejsager Noeddekaer Jonas Vejsager Noeddekaer International Director, DanChurchAid


Angharad Laing Angharad Laing Executive Director, PHAP

Chat discussion highlights

The event inspired a very rich contributions from the participants in the session. We would like to highlight some of the discussions in the chat to allow those who were not able to attend the event to contribute their views. You can access these highlights and post your comments in the PHAP Community.
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Follow-up questions

A number of questions asked by participants during the event has sparked further discussion in the PHAP Community:

Event polls

During the event, we also asked participants to respond to a few live polls. You can find the final results of these exercises below. 


Have you experienced issues with partnerships – either as an international or national NGO – that have affected the principled nature of a humanitarian program?

  • Yes, especially linked to internal governance of the partner and trust / compliance of the partner
  • Yes, but we seldom discuss these in-depth in our partnership
  • Yes. Especially trust is important for partnerships
  • Yes, regularly - capacity building is key and a continuous effort at all levels
  • Yes, in several contexts, impartiality and neutrality have been affected.
  • Yes, especially in fragile contexts where access is limited
  • Yes, in targeting the right persons
  • Yes, poor conflict sensitivity analysis
  • In Mindanao, issue of staff security of the partners and security in the worst areas was another
  • Difficulties in reaching up the common understanding of humanitarian principles by local NGOs. Risks of untimely interventions resulting in harm for refugees
  • Yes, speed, scale and international standards are key areas of concern
  • Yes, I think that the Localization agenda that was agreed upon at the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey is a mere talk without any concerted effort to practicalize it. The NNGOs are not given fair participation despite our capacity.
  • Of course , it was during the earthquake response in Nepal. The issues was related with governance.
  • Sometimes as international actors, the most important thing for us is to continue attracting funding and writing solid reports, while risks of providing good assistance is left with the partners
  • Yes, access and capacity
  • Yes, we find beneficiary selection not very transparent
  • Yes. Major issues around capacity and trust
  • Trust - power imbalance
  • Overdominance and over expectation were some of the issues when sub granted projects implemented
  • Yes, lack of/intransparent targeting criteria


What do you consider to be the biggest challenge for transforming partnerships?

  • Inequitable partnerships
  • Self-interest
  • Lack of understanding of local dynamics also local politics often
  • Local partnership portfolio management can be outsourced
  • Lack of equal resource capacity between indigenous and international organizations
  • Lack of skills
  • Internationals in jobs for career not to make a difference
  • Creating a sense of mutual trust that is shared by all actors involved.
  • The biggest challenge is for INGOs. Until they are willing to "let go" of power, finances, control, the relationship with NNGOs will never get to transformation but remain transactional at best
  • The low capacity of NNGOs to compete with INGOs…
  • Lack of trust and turnover of staff
  • The cliché of the word “partnership” and the narrative around it
  • High turnover of international staff who have limited personal investment in long terms partnerships
  • Competition mostly for funding
  • Lack of implementation of partnerships principles and poor understanding of the term "Partnerships"
  • Being very honest about what the different parties (INGO/national actor) bring to the objective to the partnership
  • Donor funding to support a trust relationship
  • Local context, understanding of the principle and limitation of LAs to access funds directly, leaving them at the weaker end of the power loop
  • Strings attached to funding
  • incentive structures in the aid architecture that favor int'l actors
  • Funding capacity
  • Capacity building of NNGO is mis-focused and within current aid architecture does not enable them to build the systems on due diligence and finance control to be compliant with donor rules as a direct aid recipient.
  • Ability to change and to adapt
  • Trust on funding and capacity building
  • Understanding of the contractual obligations
  • Desire to do so on part of internationals
  • Issues of mindset, behaviour and attitudes on true partnership
  • Inadequate Funding
  • Managing relationships and expectations of partnerships based on mutual respect and trust taking in consideration humanitarian principles
  • The overarching global-level system, i.e. who holds the money and how their wield it...
  • Imbalances of power
  • Poor financial, human resource and procurement policies
  • Attitude
  • Donor interests
  • Capacity development and funding gaps for NNGOs
  • Low commitment and poor sense of ownership in coordinating partnership
  • Commitment to bring principle into practice
  • Lack of solidarity and aid colonialism
  • Misconceptions, attitudes, risk management
  • Technical capacity
  • Thinking in terms of funding partnerships instead of resourcing partnerships, which implies that value must focus on more than money - know-how, reputation, knowledge etc..
  • Lack of trust and high turnover of staff


What would be your number one recommendation for how to overcome those challenges and transform partnerships?

  • Have an equitable partnership that is complimentary and learning - Principles guided by trust and accountability
  • Altruism, sacrifice before you gain, allow space to others
  • Capacity building for local partners and those affected by conflicts
  • Prevent the risk of local politics interfering in the localized humanitarian action
  • The funding government should engage national governments in holistically addressing humanitarian and developmental partnerships
  • Capacity building of local partners, acceptance of community
  • Don't just bend over for donors. Tell them what is needed not just chasing money
  • Collaborative and participatory policymaking
  • Change/expand INGO understanding and definition of accountability
  • To deliberately fund a long-term mentoring program where donors through coordinating organisations provide funding and experts will be brought in to mentor local organisations in all aspects of running an organisation for at least 2 years...
  • Equitable partnerships between the INGOs and LNGOs
  • Different actors need to be clear about what “partnership” means to them and we start to change the narrative from there
  • Capacity building of both L/NNGOs and INGOs on partnership
  • Open and honest communication, participation and building on mutual strengths
  • Funding to be based on the needs of the affected people rather attaching strings
  • Support in funding and build the capacities of the partners to be reliant
  • Sharing information and be transparent and accountable to each other
  • Direct funding, adequate capacity building and adequate accountability
  • Regular partnership health check
  • Have common understanding across the organization about principles of partnership, and religiously apply them in all relationships.
  • Collaborative engagement to manage expectations/roles/responsibilities. Capacity development is a key driver for effective localization.
  • Change the way the big donors work. More money directly to local orgs with less Western-centric demands for reporting
  • Stop supremacy
  • Simplify procedures
  • Global level change in funding decisions that affects how funding gets to NNGOs which will help these NNGOs build their capacity
  • Be honest
  • Donor pressure
  • Implement the Grand Bargain commitments
  • Extensive capacity building and technical backstopping for local partners
  • Capacity building for local partners
  • Transformative approach to reform the partnership principles and its approaches
  • Build trust with local actors by starting with small grants while building their capacity
  • Donors funding local organisations directly not through conduits
  • Acknowledgment of humanity as a basis of partnership
  • A finished plan to implement. Early involvement can preempt any challenges ahead