Key alliances and the transnational humanitarian system


Shabaka was pleased to host a webinar in collaboration with partners IOM and ADEPT on 13 October, to discuss the key alliances required in the humanitarian sector and current transnational forms of diaspora engagement.  

The webinar was an opportunity to establish current coordination mechanisms in place and discuss challenges in the coordination of humanitarian action in partnership with diaspora organisations. Participants from diaspora organisations as well as institutional actors were present for an enriching discussion on the state of the field and the way forward.  

The discussion initially highlighted the importance of including the diaspora as they are crucial actors on the ground, and are present before and after institutional humanitarian actors intervene. Carine Nsoudou from the ADEPT platform expressed that exploring key alliances in the humanitarian system is important for diaspora actors to gain greater recognition of their humanitarian activities, and this can contribute to reinforcing trust between stakeholders and improving collaboration and peer learning. It was noted that coordination is not an end in itself but an important means and temporary goal for the humanitarian field and diaspora organisations.  

Participants  agreed that they were used to coordinating with other humanitarian actors or diaspora organisations as part of their work, and that coordination was helpful in humanitarian work to increase reach. Additionally, participants expressed interest in a more streamlined approach for diaspora organisations’ engagement in humanitarian assistance.  

Roberta Romano, representing IOM, introduced a framework for diaspora engagement in humanitarian assistance that is being developed in partnership with Haiti Renewal Alliance (HRA). The framework adopts a multi-stakeholder approach, in which diasporas are recognised as key actors in preparedness, response and recovery. The framework aims to increase the ability of humanitarian actors to engage diaspora organisations, by facilitating internal and external cooperation.  

Dr. Magalie Emile-Backer from HRA shared the organisation’s current coordination and cooperation mechanisms, which help ensure sustainability in their and their partners’ humanitarian responses. The Haitian Diaspora Emergency Response Unit focuses on improving coordination. Other coordination mechanisms and tools also included the use of WhatsApp. Magalie emphasised that an important lesson learned from the field was that cooperation and the joining of forces was crucial to be more efficient and avoid redundancy. In order to achieve this, diaspora organisations must not adopt a competitive mindset and instead ensure each actor’s resources and strengths are used in the most efficient way possible. Magalie also insisted on the importance of trust-building in the sector.  

Participants from diaspora organisations expressed the challenges they encountered and the lessons they learned through their experience in the field. From KEIHAN, an Afghan organisation in the Netherlands, Niloufar Rahim explained the challenges of working in the medical and education sector in Afghanistan. These included issues of mutual trust, finding reliable and trusted partners on the ground, and challenges in sourcing funds. This has been especially difficult since the Taliban takeover of the country. On the other hand, a key lesson learned was the value of being patient in humanitarian work in Afghanistan.  

Shey Tatah, leading NFU Bongbati DK, a Cameroonian diaspora organisation in Denmark supporting Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria stressed the difficulties he encountered in gaining access to certain spaces and issues of security. Additionally, the challenges include collaborating with the government, and obtaining promises and accountability from government officials. Lastly, Shey mentioned the lack of awareness about the situation of refugees in Nigeria, as well as the support available to them.  

Participants also touched on the challenges of evaluating results and understanding the impact of certain responses. It was argued that the most important element for evaluation was the tangible impact of a certain response and that success was measured from the perspective of beneficiaries and their communities.  

Finally, participants heard closing remarks from IOM. These highlighted that it is more productive to build on existing efforts from actors in the field. Similarly, it is better to work with existing systems to respond to crises rather than attempt to develop systems once a crisis occurs. Hence, diaspora organisations and institutional humanitarian partners must promote and develop coordination systems before crises occur. These systems must adopt a flexible approach playing into diaspora organisations’ strengths. These types of coordination mechanisms have the potential to break through barriers and increase the legitimacy of various actors, thus improving trust.  

Participants were highly engaged with panellists’ productive and interesting discussions, and were enthusiastic to carry the conversation forward in future webinars and learn more about the coordination framework developed by IOM.