In 2016, donors, UN agencies, NGOs, and the Red Cross met at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to agree on a Grand Bargain on humanitarian aid. Recognising that trends in humanitarian need were vastly outstripping humanitarian financing, the humanitarian community adopted 51 commitments on issues like transparency, cash-based programming, and multi-year funding to more effectively and efficiently respond to humanitarian crises.

Five years on, those gains are yet to be seen. In our position paper Focus on the Frontlines: How the Grand Bargain can deliver on its promise to improve humanitarian aid we make five key recommendations in line with our commitment to outcomes and evidence, and in support of the two main priorities identified for the next iteration of the Grand Bargain – enhanced quality funding and localisation. We recommend:

Increasing the volume of aid – both direct and passed-through funding – to frontline implementers. By ‘frontline implementers’ we mean those actors who are best placed to intervene on the frontlines of humanitarian action, including local civil society, international NGOs, or a partnership of the two;

  • Improving the quality of aid by making it flexible and multi-year, and by reaching frontline implementers faster;
  • Better tracking humanitarian financing flows for greater transparency and accountability for reform commitments;
  • Supporting a more equitable distribution of power for people affected by crisis; and
  • Scaling the coordination of humanitarian cash and the use of cost-effectiveness tools and assessments that strike the best balance between costs and outcomes for people in need.

Focus on the Frontlines also details what IRC is ready to contribute to turn these recommendations into action. For example, we commit to increase the resources we provide to local actors by half in 2021 (compared to 2020) to jump start progress; continue to build strategic partnerships with local actors, half of whom will be women-led; and strengthen our internal systems to start reporting to the Financial Tracking Service managed by UN OCHA by 2024 or earlier.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is negatively impacting aid budgets and leading many donor governments to refocus on their domestic agendas, it has also shown its potential to catalyse structural aid reforms. Financial flows are the greatest drivers of, and barriers to, effective humanitarian action. Bilateral and multilateral donors, therefore, have the strongest role to play in reform. They must engage at the highest levels to agree on time-bound reforms that can support lasting solutions for people in crisis.