Remote Management: The Case of Arsal - Lebanon
Rayan El Fawal
Remote management often takes place when access to disaster or war impacted populations is nearly impossible. This process entails handing over operations and fieldwork to locals – who may or may not be staff – residing in the affected area.
Access to a region can be impacted by several factors, such as: the security authorities not allowing access to a specific area or region; visas not being granted to the international staff of an organization; the uncertainty of a situation pushing organizations not to risk the lives of their staff; or threats of any kind against any staff members prompting an organization to set limits on the mobility of all its staff.
In order to better manage the situation, organizations might resort to a combined or hybrid type of management, which combines remote and direct management, depending on the type of service to be provided. While doing so, donors and international organizations understand that there are trade-offs which remote management brings. These trade-offs include, but are not limited to, tensions resulting from the fact that there is no direct contact between the INGOs and local partners, lack of trust, and limited options for local partners that, in some cases, might push INGOs and donors to work with unregistered groups.
In Lebanon, several border regions with Syria were defined as “Red Zones” or high-risk zones by some embassies and international donors. These areas were also home to some of the most vulnerable communities in Lebanon due to the large influx of refugees they have had since 2011. As a result, and because they were already marginalized and underdeveloped areas, it would not make sense for international donors not to be funding activities in these regions. However, due to limited access, these activities are often managed remotely. Arsal is one of these towns, located on the eastern border with Syria over a 40 KM stretch of mountainous and uninhabited borders making it nearly impossible to control. With around 50,000 inhabitants and an even larger population of refugees, the humanitarian, social, political, and economic situation in Arsal has been continuously deteriorating. As a consequence, international organizations have continued to conduct operations there.
In summer 2013, Arsal witnessed the only Daesh invasion into Lebanon, an event that marked the official withdrawal of international organizations from the town to shift their modus operandi toward remote management. Different organizations adopted different approaches, some fully trusting local partners to implement projects, others hiring local staff to represent the organization, and others using a more hybrid model, with occasional visits but keeping the larger part of implementation in the hands of local partners.