MENA mainstreams Quality, Accountability and Safeguarding 

Workshop participants share their experiences applying Quality, Accountability and Safeguarding to their organisations. PHOTO: ACT

By Rizwan Iqbal and Uma Narayanan

A recent three-day Quality, Accountability and Safeguarding (QAS) mainstreaming workshop brought together senior managers from ACT Middle East and North Africa (MENA) members. Their focus: how to increase the effectiveness of their organisations’ humanitarian assistance and development work. Hosted by the ACT Palestine Forum in Antalya, Turkey, invitations were extended to a range of ACT members, including the Iraq Forum.  

ACT provides ongoing support to help members achieve compliance with the full suite of QAS programmes: Core Humanitarian Standards (CHS), the Sphere Standards, Safeguarding and the commitments of the Humanitarian Standards Partnership (HSP). The international CHS and Sphere Standards are mandatory for all ACT members under ACT’s Quality and Accountability Framework. The Humanitarian Standards Partnership (HSP) contains a set of nine standards, one which is Sphere. ACT members are encouraged to use and refer to the HSP tools. Safeguarding is a key aspect of QAS.  

The workshop was an opportunity for participants to review accountability from a strategic perspective and examine the standards’ commitments. They explored how to position CHS in their organisation, as support from leadership and the entire organisation is key to the success of QAS mainstreaming. They also had a chance to review and revise their QAS mainstreaming efforts using CHS as the main reference tool. Those who were further along in their QAS mainstreaming journey shared their experiences with others. “In the ACT MENA Forum, we work with each other and not for each other, says Father Meletius Shattahi of ACT Syrian member GOPA-DERD. “We avoid the ‘big brother’ syndrome.”  

Participants returned to their organisations with a draft action plan and a holistic view of how to initiate and advance QAS mainstreaming. “The workshop was a platform for staff from the same organisation to have a meaningful conversation on those areas where they were doing well and those areas where they need to work differently,” says Samy Khoury of MECC’S DSPR. 

Participants also noted the following challenges in applying QAS commitments:  

  • Commitment One: This stresses the importance of understanding the context and real needs of the affected population, but there is pressure to focus instead on funders’ priorities. 
  • Commitment 2: Access is a major issue in the MENA region. There is room for improvement in advocacy. 
  • Commitment 5: It is mandatory for ACT members to have a Complaints Response Mechanism (CRM) in place. ACT MENA members are at different stages of implementing such a mechanism. The prevailing culture of the organisations and the community is to not raise complaints. Mainstreaming CRM also requires technical and financial resources. 
  • Commitment 8: Most organisations do not have competency-based Human Resources (HR) practices. Not all organisations have a dedicated HR expert to support accountability mainstreaming here.  

“Compliance is critical,” says Hakam Awad of HEKS. “But an over-focus on compliance should not compromise the actual delivery and impact of the humanitarian response.” 

Rizwan Iqbal is the ACT Alliance Global Accountability and Safeguarding Coordinator. Uma Narayanan is an independent consultant