This discussion paper was developed to help explore different options and help future-proof the humanitarian certification process. It lays out some of the challenges that have been learned from the existing standard and certification process and suggests options for alternative processes to consider for the future. It is hoped that the paper will be used to explore some more realistic options that will ensure greater outreach and greater involvement of local and national actors in the Global South.
Humanitarian Core Standard
Efforts have been made since the early 2000s to improve humanitarian aid and ensure accountability to those affected by the crisis. Quality and accountability standards have been developed to ensure that populations affected by crises can expect a consistent response from humanitarian aid actors. Various attempts have been made to improve the way organizations work by adhering to quality and accountability standards. In 2014, the Joint Standard Initiative, a group of INGOs and NGOs, through a consultative process, agreed on a core humanitarian standard that takes into account the various specificities and challenges inherent in the work of humanitarian organizations. It was also agreed that verification and certification are needed for quality assurance and improved accountability to affected populations, as well as for better adapted and more efficient humanitarian assistance.
Certification provides several benefits to an organization – recognition that they are operating to a specific standard and the ability to demonstrate compliance to a set standard so stakeholders know what to expect from them. An often overlooked benefit is the learning and improvement that comes through the certification process. This means that the audit must include not only a historical review of what the organization has achieved, but also a review of whether it has systems in place that allow for continuous improvement. Put simply, these core elements together provide the organization with an effective system for improvement. By using, implementing, and checking against the standard, the improvement is embedded in the organization.
However, after many years of implementation, three key challenges remain: First, if the standard itself is too complex and the bar set too high, the majority of organizations will not be able to meet the requirements and the standard will be insufficiently taken up, particularly in the program and support system Funding decisions are made elsewhere and there is an unfair distribution of funding and decision-making powers. Second, when the certification process is complex and costly, leading to difficulties in raising funds to cover the cost of the certification audit, and third, when certification is centralized, resulting in only a limited number of organizations being certified.