Supporting survivor and community-led response: an emerging pathway for people affected by disaster contexts

8th January 2021

This blog post was written by Rebecca Venuto, Development Policy and Practice Research Policy Intern at ACT Alliance EU

On 25th November 2020, ACT Alliance EU and VOICE engaged with EU-based civil society and global partners in a workshop to raise awareness of the scope, scale and impacts of approaches supporting survivor and community-led response (SCLR), an autonomous collective self-help provided by and for populations in disaster contexts. Thanks to the insights of Local to Global Protection and Oxfam facilitators and practitioners worldwide, this was the occasion to dive into the development of these approaches from a theoretical and practical perspective and identify both opportunities and challenges.

Survivor and community-led crisis response seeks to support the existing capacities of first responders in crisis situations and provide financial and operational ownership. This approach intends to complement existing emergency response programming, but under a different narrative. It centres on enhancing immediate survival and recovery in a holistic and inclusive manner as well as strengthening the sense of dignity and empowerment of communities. Practitioners also argue SCLR helps to tackle the root causes of vulnerability to crises by shaping long-term processes and visions led by and for communities.

SCLR approach is characterised by some common elements. Firstly, it is based on a participatory action learning (PAL): after a rapid evaluation of existing capacities and resources of communities, the process explores local systems of “do no harm” as a starting point to identify local power dynamics and mechanisms. Secondly, it counts on a funding mechanism based on micro-grants to allow scale, speed and accountability for collective action in response to a given crisis. Finally, it is grounded on demand-led skills upgrading and both horizontal and vertical coordination between local groups, NGOs and governments.

SCLR approaches in practice

The workshop provided us with insights into blended practices of SCLR approaches worldwide, whose benefits are multiple. In Sudan, for instance, the scale of community-led practices was extremely successful. In just six months, 5 NGOs provided support to 150 initiatives, the majority led by women and youth. In response to the natural disaster caused by the Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines in 2018, micro-grants awarded by ECOWEB allowed livelihood recovery through the implementation of water system and seedling production-related projects that were led by the affected communities.

Empowering women and other marginalised categories is another positive outcome of this practice. In northern Kenya, IREMO promoted different initiatives for local groups, by providing access to training and ensuring coordination between those and the government. This approach increased knowledge-sharing, solidarity and sense of ownership among the population. Similarly, in the Oicha region of the DRC, the COPI, a platform for local organisations dedicated to humanitarian response, empowered local groups to effectively deliver DRR early warning and protection mechanisms and contributed to the development of women’s fora that were crucial to providing legal and psychological support to victims of sexual violence.

Challenges facing locally-led responses

Despite the successes of community-led approaches, still many difficulties exist. Amongst the most pressing problems are the lack of adequate financial resources and the rigidity of funding systems, which shrink the availability of grants and limit the opportunities to transfer them to local communities. Coordination with the formal humanitarian system and between agencies remains a significant challenge. Moreover, as emphasised in the case of Philippines, Sudan and northern Kenya, other pressing issues are the lack of adequate knowledge of SCLR approaches by local and global organisations and the recurring and sometimes firm opposition to transferring power to local groups.

Lessons for first responder approaches

This learning exchange stresses the need for rethinking the role given to first responders in the current humanitarian system and paves the way for a more comprehensive and inclusive approach. The challenge is to maximise understanding among the humanitarian community of the potential of this approach for delivering on “the triple nexus”, empowering local and national actors, and strengthening communal self-help. To ensure the success of this approach, coordinated and scaled up funding and capacity support are also required. Thanks to this approach, as emphasised by the words of a local group’s member in northern Kenya, “people will be empowered to take their own response and shape the future with their hands”.

ACT Alliance EU members will continue raising awareness on the survivor and community-led approach and reaching concrete EU engagement on these issues directly linked to the implementation of the triple nexus.

Find the summary of the webinar with the video interventions here