18 March 2021
Dear Committee Members
The CHS Alliance would like to take this opportunity to contribute to the UK International Development Committee’s inquiry into the philosophy and culture of aid.
The Core Humanitarian Standard sets out the essential elements of principled, accountable and high quality aid, with Nine Commitments the sector has made to affected populations. These commitments clearly state that the people the sector serve have the right to receive support from organisations whose culture is characterized by accountability and mutual respect between all staff, partners, volunteers and people affected by crises. The rights and dignity of people we serve are at the heart of the Standard.
How do these commitments translate into practice? Behaviour that is expected of staff, volunteers and partners is clearly defined. There should be open communication. People need to feel they can discuss and declare any potential or actual conflicts of interest. Complaints are taken seriously and acted upon according to defined policies and processes. Programming is mindful of power dynamics and social marginalisation and intentionally considers groups or individuals who have historically been excluded from power and decision-making processes. And importantly, unacceptable behaviour is also clearly defined, including the prohibition of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Why might the culture of the aid sector be falling short? It is clear that culture in aid does not operate in a vacuum. Attitudes, values, mindsets, and norms are influenced by the historical and modern-day contexts in which we operate. Behaviours can be permitted or incentivised by the systems that govern aid and are often linked to substantial power imbalances. Culture change takes time, and requires constant, intentional effort to last. Much valuable work is being done to transform aid culture, and this deserves prioritisation, visibility and sustained resourcing.
Since 2019 the CHS Alliance has been working with its members and experts from around the world at all levels to explore the connection between organisational culture, people management, mental health, and well-being in aid organisations. We have been sharing our findings in reports like “Working well: Aid worker well-being and how to improve it” and the “Embodying change” podcast and webinars like the 3 December 2020 ICVA-CHS Alliance-PHAP webinar called “Organisational culture matters: Leadership, staff well-being and living our values.”
We are publishing a report with ICVA called “Leading well: Aid leader perspectives on well-being and supportive organisational culture” following a project engaging 15 aid leaders from our shared memberships. Building on the report’s insights, three country-based dialogues will take place with leaders in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and oPt.
Our vision is to work together with our 150+ members and others to cultivate a culture that meets the Core Humanitarian Standard. For this to happen, we need to improve understanding of culture, which is a complex issue. We are examining the root causes of the challenges we all seem to be encountering. We are drawing attention to opportunities, good practice and available resources. We are creating spaces for shared reflection and learning, which have already sparked collaboration and capacity sharing. We aim to support those who are working hard every day to transform our aid culture into one that meets the Standard. To this end, we welcome a continued dialogue with this body and remain at your disposal.