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High-level meeting attended by over 130 senior leaders highlights the need for a humanitarian policy refresh

Summary of high-level meeting which launched a collective process for refreshing cash and voucher assistance-related policy commitments.

16 June 2023

High level meeting: The need for a humanitarian policy refresh

Yesterday, a major high-level meeting titled “The Need for a Humanitarian Policy Refresh” took place, organised by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and the CALP Network. The meeting brought together over 130 senior leaders from more than 100 organisations worldwide, including NGOs, UN agencies, government authorities, donors, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, the World Bank, the private sector, and think tanks, to address the pressing issues surrounding cash and voucher assistance (CVA) in humanitarian response. 

The purpose of the meeting was to launch a collaborative process to develop a collective vision and to refresh and renew policy commitments, ensuring better assistance for crisis-affected populations globally. The collaborative process intends to drive forward the development of CVA as a key means of achieving more people-centred and effective aid.  

Innocent Tshilombo, who spent 10 years in Kakuma refugee camp on the receiving end of CVA, contextualised the purpose of the event to the packed meeting of leaders. He spoke of the “need for effective conversations, reforms and policies for cash voucher assistance to meet the long-term aspirations of people in camps just like me who have waited longer for their situations to change. As we gather here today millions of people much like me are stuck in the cycle of receiving aid. I want to see changes because I want to see good policy enacted without too much delay. It’s about people, it’s about listening and engaging people. You need to listen; you need to go faster – It’s people’s lives.” 

Senior leaders were specifically targeted for this meeting because their buy-in and institutional commitments are essential for sector-wide change. Their attendance ensured high-level awareness of the issues discussed and a commitment to addressing them in the short and long-term. During the event, organisations were asked to sign up to engage in the process. 

The event commenced with a warm welcome and overview by Karen Peachey, Director of CALP, who set the stage for the discussions that followed. The meeting featured several prominent speakers, including Mr. Tshilombo. Sarah Charles, Assistant to the Administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, emphasised the significance of evidence-based approaches and the need for new policy commitments in humanitarian assistance. Smruti Patel, Director of the Global Mentoring Initiative, highlighted the importance of CVA in locally-led response efforts, while Joanna Darmanin, ECHO, emphasised the linkages between policy commitments and other critical agendas. Kate Hart, CALP, outlined the next steps to be taken in making new commitments, and Nabeh Allaham, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), delivered inspiring closing remarks as a young leader calling for action. 

The meeting was triggered by the compelling need to refresh and renew humanitarian policy commitments related to cash and voucher assistance. Evidence supports this need, indicating that most individuals, in most contexts, prefer cash over other forms of assistance, underscoring the importance of a people-centered approach to aid. Secondly, while progress has been made, there is room for improvement in the quality and effectiveness of CVA. Furthermore, momentum for CVA is beginning to slow, necessitating collective policy commitments to reignite progress. The meeting highlighted the immense potential of cash assistance, which could reach 30-50% of international humanitarian assistance, provided appropriate actions are taken. According to the latest data from 2021, it only accounts for 19% of all humanitarian aid.  

Karen Peachey shared in her opening remarks; “there is clear evidence that cash has been one of the most significant changes in the humanitarian system in recent years and has often sparked positive change in other areas of the system. As one humanitarian leader recently said to me, the evolution of cash gives me hope that we can create the change needed in other areas.” 

The collaborative process initiated through this meeting aligns with the Grand Bargain, where cash has been a significant commitment since its inception in 2016. The new iteration of the Grand Bargain now includes a focus on localisation and the participation revolution. The CALP Network is engaging with the Grand Bargain Secretariat to identify synergies and facilitate progress in both initiatives. 

Following on from this meeting, the forthcoming collaborative process will involve a variety of events, including webinars, Chatham House-style discussions, and workshops to follow. CALP’s newsletters and events webpage will provide updates and information on how to engage with this transformative process. Kate Hart provided further information about next steps, We anticipate the process will be defined by the whole community – national and international – after this launch. There may also be opportunities to link with other processes. Different stakeholders have offered to lead different elements. It has already been recommended from amongst the community that a ‘technical engine room’ is established to support the process. CALP – and others – are on standby to support too.” 

The High-Level Meeting: The Need for a Humanitarian Policy Refresh was a notable success and gathered influential voices from diverse sectors with the aim of driving positive change in humanitarian assistance. Isabelle Pelly from ECHO who was in attendance, commented “What an event! Congratulations to CALP Network for bringing together such a diverse and inspiring group of people to drive a joint refreshed vision for cash assistance. ECHO is committed to the journey with you all!” 

The meeting marked the beginning of a process that aims to refresh and renew policy commitments and to embrace cash and voucher assistance as a means of more effective aid. If successful, it will make a substantial impact in delivering better assistance to crisis-affected populations worldwide. 

Mr. Allaham, IFRC, closed off the event with a pressing call-to-action to the community: “Leadership is not about maintaining the status quo; it is about having the courage to challenge, recognising the urgency of change, and taking bold, decisive action to meet the voice of the communities that will build trust and transparency.  I hope you will lead the way.” 

Background Information 

About the CALP Network: 

CALP is a network that promotes and supports the use of cash and voucher assistance (CVA) in humanitarian response. CALP serves as a global platform for learning, collaboration, and advocacy to enhance the quality and effectiveness of CVA. 

About USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance 

 USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) provides life-saving humanitarian assistance—including food, water, shelter, emergency healthcare, sanitation and hygiene, and critical nutrition services—to the world’s most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach people. This includes helping internally displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes, as well as providing food assistance to refugees who have crossed national borders. BHA’s work is guided by fundamental humanitarian principles, policies, and frameworks that underpin our activities and help us meet the most critical humanitarian needs. 

About the Grand Bargain 

The Grand Bargain commitment is an agreement between donors and organisations to improve humanitarian aid and reach more people in need. The ‘Grand Bargain’ was a promise by donors and aid actors in 2016 following the World Humanitarian Summit, to make aid more effective and efficient.   

The Grand Bargain included 51 commitments across ten workstreams, including increasing cash and voucher assistance to people affected by crises.  

The Grand Bargain 2.0 was agreed upon in 2021. Grand bargain 2.0 prioritised better support for cash coordination, locally-led humanitarian action and long-term, flexible funding.  The growth and use of CVA are considered one of the most successful areas of the agreement. 

Media Contact: 

Jo-Anne Witcombe 

Head of Communications and Digital Platforms at the CALP Network