Going local – strengthening humanitarian capacity through partnerships

‘We are a learning organisation, so we don’t run away from things,’ says Ruth Dul, the chief executive of the Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria (CRUDAN). As a national non-governmental organisation (NNGO), CRUDAN has partnered with Tearfund on long-term development initiatives since 1992.

Two girls in an IDP camp in Nigeria, in which CRUDAN and other Tearfund partners work. Photo: Ruth Towell/Tearfund

Working together

Over the years, CRUDAN’s experience in humanitarian response was limited. However, when armed conflict broke out in northern Nigeria, both CRUDAN and Tearfund wanted to respond to the emergency needs of the communities affected. So they found a new way of working together – Tearfund would support CRUDAN to strengthen its humanitarian response capacity. 

Tearfund’s decision to invest in the partnership was motivated by a recognition of CRUDAN’s strengths in north-east Nigeria. These included the reach, access and trust CRUDAN enjoys as a national network organisation with members across Nigeria. 

Finding local solutions 

Unusually, the capacity strengthening did not focus on formal training sessions. Rather, it was primarily achieved through long-term accompaniment, mentoring, ‘learning by doing’ and learning from mistakes. The approach to partnership also included sharing resources, such as office space and vehicles. 

Humanitarian work frequently tends to be short-term, with international stakeholders making most of the decisions, often overruling local staff and leaders. Wangari Wanju, co-ordinator for the Dutch Relief Alliance’s Nigerian Joint Response says the CRUDAN-Tearfund model was different. ‘This is a long-term investment. It is led by the local organisation; Tearfund works as a facilitator for them to realise their capacities. The partnership is focused on finding solutions that are beyond a budget timeline or a donor timeline. It’s about long-term sustainability. The fact that there’s a technical person available to work through the process with CRUDAN is very significant. People are able to be guided on a day-to-day basis rather than a get-in/get-out model.’ 

In keeping with the Charter4Change, which Tearfund is signed up to and CRUDAN endorses, the partnership approach adopted was intentional in strengthening localisation*. It did so by enabling CRUDAN to take the lead while Tearfund undertook an advisory role, working side by side. Tearfund staff stepped back and allowed CRUDAN to lead on implementation as well as in humanitarian coordination forums.

CRUDAN staff distributing jerrycans to promote hygiene in Adamawa State, Nigeria, 2017. Photo: Joseph Gyandi/CRUDAN

‘Over the years, we have become able to understand the humanitarian system, speak the same language and integrate.’

John Reginald, Food Security and Livelihoods Officer, CRUDAN

Growing influence

CRUDAN’s ability to lead humanitarian work, as well as its visibility and influence within the humanitarian community, has grown steadily over the years. 

John Reginald, CRUDAN’s Food Security and Livelihoods Officer, notes: ‘In places where CRUDAN was not known before, it is now a household name… At the beginning, [the humanitarian cluster meetings] were confusing. Over the years, we have become able to understand the humanitarian system, speak the same language and integrate.’

It is critical that humanitarian actors recognise the key attitudes and behaviours which nurture partnerships that facilitate localisation. 

The journey is not over for CRUDAN and Tearfund. Together, they have identified a number of ways in which the partnership can adapt and change in order to further strengthen local humanitarian leadership. 

You can read about them in a new report, Shoulder to Shoulder.

What is *localisation? A process of recognising, respecting and strengthening the independence of leadership and decision-making by national actors in humanitarian action, in order to better address the needs of affected populations (Australia Red Cross, 2017).

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Asha Kurien
Asha Kurien is a Humanitarian Policy Officer at Tearfund. Email: asha.kurien@tearfund.org