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Humanitarian Aid on the move # 15, special issue: The Quality of Aid

Improving quality, standardisation and the role of funding agencies
Luciano Loiacono

This article presents Handicap International’s views about the constraints that many NGOs face in trying to improve quality and accountability, the implications of standardisation and certification initiatives and the role of funding agencies.

 Standardisation, certification and institutional funding

Over the last two years, Handicap International has had some questions about the objectives of two parallel initiatives: the Joint Standards Initiative (JSI), a project to consolidate humanitarian standards led by the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP International), People In Aid and the Sphere Project, which led to the Core Humanitarian Standard; and particularly the humanitarian Certificiation project, initiated by the Standing Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR).

Handicap International’s critical position is based on three points which concern the economy of the sector and the role of funding agencies:

  • These initiatives address the concerns of organizations who work on standards and certification – and the donors that fund them - but are not really a priority for the majority of operational organisations who are primarily concerned with problems of access and security in conflict zones, and the stagnation of international funding;
  • Global certification will not replace existing controls and audits and will represent an additional load for operational organisations who are already extensively controlled by their institutional donors. Certification will effectively provide these donors with a new mechanism for selecting NGOs in the name of quality;
  • Current competition between NGOs over access to institutional funds is not between organisations who are concerned about quality and accountability on the one hand, and more casual organisations who could be filtered out by certification on the other. It is essentially between professionalised organizations who are structured and equipped to manage and run projects, provide reports and meet regulatory and contractual controls. Certification would not work as a filter against amateur projects which are unable to meet the criteria currently fixed by institutional donors anyway. Neither would it be effective against programmes by sectarian movements who have their own - sometimes considerable - private resources, and who implement programmes wherever they want, and often with the permission of the authorities of the host country.