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Transforming financing for peace: can philanthropy rise to the challenge?

Date: February 23, 2024

Press Clip Source: Alliance Magazine
Link to Source: Here 

by Kristina Preiksaityte 

Peacebuilding is in crisis. This year begun with wars burning in Gaza, Sudan, and Ukraine – not to mention less-covered but still deadly conflicts from Myanmar to Haiti. Worldwide, diplomatic efforts to end violence are failing while global militarisation continues to ramp up.

Despite the increasing complexity and duration of conflicts, and the critical role peacebuilding plays in interrupting these cycles of violence, financial resources for peacebuilding work are declining. The investments that do occur often do not end up supporting those who are most in need. According to PeaceRep, just 1 percent of international philanthropy is dedicated to peacebuilding – at a time when these investments have never been more essential.

The international donor conference in Belfast ‘Countering Violent and Polarisation: How Can Donors Help?’ organised by the Social Change Initiative brought together a collection of philanthropy leaders, and government donors to help philanthropy adapt to current needs and challenges by crafting a compelling narrative about its role, and positively shape pathways towards peace.

Having just completed an almost-two-year long mission in Ukraine with Nonviolent Peaceforce – an INGO specialised in Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) – I was eager to join the conversation. Two years into the response, many international actors are still limited in their operations with at-risk communities in de-occupied areas or in proximity to the frontline. Local humanitarian organisations, most of which are staffed by volunteers, remain at the forefront of emergency aid delivery and civilian protection. Yet, Ukrainian responders struggle to secure much-needed financial support – even while acting as crucial intermediaries for international NGOs and UN agencies.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), by early 2023 the number of aid organisations working in Ukraine had increased five-fold since the beginning of the invasion. More than 60 percent of these organisations are Ukrainian. Yet only 12 national NGOs directly benefited from the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund (UHF) last year, while the bulk of the funding went to INGOs and UN agencies.

Although the UHF has tried to orient toward localising funding, they put lower priority on localisation commitments than on the overarching goal of allocating money to the responders best placed operationally. In addition, many of the most effective frontline responders and conflict mediators are often not eligible for the fund. This results in a situation where Ukrainian organisations, particularly the smaller-scale agile volunteer collectives, can only access the UHF through partnerships with eligible larger organisations.

Nonviolent Peaceforce has been a source of funding for local responders. Sub-granting, however, is a temporary measure; Ukrainian organisations need to have direct contact with donors via responsible partnerships, acquiring long-term, flexible funding to spend directly on the needs they identify at the local level. As the conference highlighted, for peacebuilding to be effective it needs to be embedded from the very start – a huge part of that is making sure local responders, who will remain long after international organisations have moved onto the next conflict, have sustainable access to funds.

The need to ensure funds go directly to organisations run by and for those most impacted is not unique to Ukraine. Conference participants were able to hear from Lida Minasyan, Co-Founder of the Women’s Agenda (Armenia), and Kaltumi Abdulazeez, Founder of the Ladies Empowerment Goals and Support Initiatives (Nigeria). Lida and Kaltumi both pointed out complex and burdensome due diligence requirements which act as the main barrier between local organisations and access to international funding. They underlined the need for more flexibility from donors and awareness that on-the-ground situations are dynamic, meaning local responders need to quickly adapt their operations. Short-term projects with expectations to show impact or results are unrealistic and even potentially destructive for local peacebuilding – these are not quick fixes. Sustainable peace is a slow burn, and funding opportunities need to reflect that reality.

Financial and reporting barriers are not the only challenges local peacebuilders face. Local responders take on a disproportionate share of security risks and are often not adequately equipped and supported with resources, both physical and structural, to do their work safely and sustainably.

In Ukraine, local organisations lack essential supplies, such as fuel and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); they require mental health support to cope with prolonged stress and burnout and contingency planning support, both of which are rarely available to them. Yet, sub-granting INGOs do not have a consistent approach towards avoiding risk transfer. NP is trying to lead by example through our programmes – but every local responder deserves to have access to resources that support their safety and ongoing work.

As John Paul Lederach rightly observed at the event, everything is urgent, and everything takes time. Will the international donor community commit itself to issuing more flexible, long-term funding arrangements? Will administrative barriers to donor funding become lowered while local ownership of projects increased?

This would require transforming partnerships in international cooperation: redefining measures of accountability, promoting accountability for support to local leadership, and keeping realistic timeframes for donor ambition to contribute to peace objectives, acknowledging that peacebuilding is a complex social and political process that can take a decade or more of sustained funding commitment. These transformations will take time – but I have seen the seeds of these possibilities in Ukraine, and there has never been a more critical time to take their nurturing seriously.

Kristina Preiksaityte is the Strategic Partnerships Managers at Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) – an INGO that provides direct protection to populations experiencing threats of violence.

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