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Revitalising the Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative: a 20-year review

Research report

Written by Sophia Swithern

Image credit:Jessica Rennoldson/HPG

Since the establishment in 2003 of the Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative (GHDI), the world in which humanitarian donors seek to be ‘good’ has altered significantly: the nature of humanitarian challenges has changed; the demands on humanitarian donorship have escalated; the humanitarian coordination landscape has become more crowded; and yet the global respect for humanitarian norms and the geopolitical space for multilateral cooperation has diminished.

Arguably, in this context, the work of a group of donors committed to good humanitarian donorship is both more necessary and more difficult than it was 20 years ago. Although the initiative has proved highly successful in attracting a diverse group of members, and in establishing an important set of norms for donor behaviour, there is a widespread sense that it requires reinvigoration.

This 20-year review, undertaken by HPG in partnership with the Humanitarian Exchange and Research Centre in Geneva (HERE-Geneva), provides insights into five areas of action where the GHDI will need to agree its future niche, breadth, and depth of engagement.

Sharpening the purpose of the GHDI

Making the GHDI ‘fit for purpose’ demands clarity of purpose. There is a positive desire to translate exchange into action and to generate more influential joint positions. This will demand dynamic leadership from the co-chairs and concerted engagement from members.

Selecting the focus of the GHDI

The group requires a shared set of selection criteria to avoid ‘mission creep.’ This means focusing on issues which are donor-specific, sufficiently challenging, and largely unaddressed elsewhere from a donor perspective.

Revitalising the GHDI principles

There is a call to reassert the centrality of the GHDI principles, but in a context of widespread political roll-back on international norms this will involve a degree of risk, and any refresh is likely to be light and focused on technical clarifications.

Strengthening the value-add of the GHDI

The GHDI must reconcile its added value to both its highly networked and its less-networked members. To do this, it will need to develop more effective ways of connecting to other forums.

Improving the GHDI’s ways of working

There is a shared sense that the GHDI is less effective than it might be. Improving effectiveness involves: attracting sufficiently senior representation while encouraging engagement from all members, and creating a sufficiently light yet stable governance structure. If the current co-chairs can establish a purposeful agenda and practical protocols, this could go some way to restarting a virtuous circle of engagement and effectiveness.

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