What’s the ‘Flagship Initiative’, and how might it transform emergency aid?

The New Humanitarian
Humanitarian Sectors - Education

You may not have heard of it yet, but many in the humanitarian aid sector are abuzz with anticipation about what is being referred to – in typically functional aidspeak – as the “Emergency Relief Coordinator’s Flagship Initiative”.

Initiated by Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) Martin Griffiths, the UN’s top humanitarian official, it aims to transform an aid delivery system currently run as a supply-driven model – with decision-making dominated by those with the most funding and power – to one that is less bureaucratic and able to respond more nimbly to needs as articulated by affected people.

This sounds all well and good. However, the major players in the aid sector – UN agencies, international NGOs, and the main donor countries – have struggled with meaningful reform in the past, most notably the Grand Bargain process launched in 2016 that sought to devolve more power and funding to the local aid groups that do much of the frontline response.

Given past frustrations, some aid insiders remain apprehensive about the Flagship Initiative and are hedging their bets a little, but the majority interviewed over several months for this article told The New Humanitarian they were hopeful it could bring the kind of change the sector has long needed.

Concrete details are scarce – as plans are still being ironed out at the country level – but after a bit of digging here’s what we’ve been able to glean...