3 global development organizations 'bringing charity home'

By Gabriella Jóźwiak 14 March 2017

A refugee march by Amnesty International in London. Photo by: Rob Wells / CC BY-SA

In January, the International Rescue Committee launched its first-ever emergency fundraising appeal to support refugees exclusively in the U.S. In the charity’s 84-year history, funds have paid for the organization’s work as a whole, in the U.S. and abroad. But following President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees for 120 days — and Syrian refugees indefinitely — the IRC said it anticipated funding gaps to provide immediate aid for refugees on arrival and beyond, including housing, cultural orientation, health care, education, employment and immigration services.

The case is one of a number in which recent international events have prompted global development and humanitarian organizations to begin delivering aid on home-turf, or fundraising specifically for domestic projects, for the first time.

Faced with a migrant crisis, increasingly isolationist policies and the impact of globalization across borders, many development organizations headquartered in Europe and the U.S. are looking inward.

For example, a rise in hate crimes in the U.K. last year led the country's branch of Amnesty International to work on domestic issues on a grand scale for the first time. Following the Brexit vote in June 2016, which saw the U.K. opt to leave the European Union, police figures revealed a 41 percent increase in racially or religiously aggravated offenses in England and Wales compared to the same month in 2015. In response, Amnesty launched its first major, wholly local campaign to tackle racism and xenophobia.

Amnesty International U.K. Head of Media Niall Couper told Devex that the charity made the decision after its members called for it to tackle local human rights abuses. Anecdotal evidence gathered by the charity’s regional representatives, and comments left on its social media platforms, indicated supporters’ concerns.

“Brexit brought it all into a big, sharp focus,” he said. “When you look at the issues around refugees, the rise of hate speech, or hate crimes, it was important and imperative for us to start tackling those issues on our own shores. Historically, people associate us with issues in China or Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia or Egypt. All of those are completely valid, but we would be remiss to ignore concerns here.”

Other global development groups identified a need to act locally earlier. Peacebuilding organization International Alert has been looking home in the U.K. since 2010. It began after the organization started engaging with the diaspora Sri Lankan community to support peacebuilding in their home state, Senior Peacebuilding Advisor Lucy Holdaway told Devex. “Through that engagement, we realized that conflicts are no longer contained within borders. They are connected and influence people all over the world,” she said.

Getting the donor base on board

Amnesty International began the process of working on the homegrown issue by launching research into U.K. racism. The charity called on local authorities to sign a commitment to prevent it and served in a coalition of advocacy and aid organizations that coordinated demonstrations against racism and xenophobia in London in July 2016.

In the past, organizations that have refocused their work have upset donors or supporters. In 2009, Save the Children UK announced it would hand out grants of 100 to 200 pounds ($124 to $248) to families living in poverty in the U.K. Some supporters cancelled their donations in protest, complaining that they had agreed to fund causes overseas rather than at home — although the charity has in fact supported U.K. families almost since its foundation in 1919.

Couper was aware some supporters might disagree with Amnesty’s decision, but said that this should not hinder the organization’s priorities. “We have 700,000 supporters in the U.K., and 200,000 active members,” he said. “It's never going to be that everybody agrees with everything we do — that wouldn't be natural,” he said.

Holdaway believes the reaction in the case of Save the Children demonstrated the public’s lack of understanding of the U.K. context. She recommends that organizations that decide to support home causes work hard to communicate their reasoning why a domestic need exists.

In the case of peacebuilding, for example, “it’s easy for people to understand when you say Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo or Syria — that’s what people understand as conflict,” she explained. “When you say Europe, it doesn’t have the image of tanks on the street. It’s that lack of understanding of what’s going on under the surface.”

Scoping out existing efforts

International Alert began its U.K. work by analyzing the causes of conflict in England and assessing if the organization could add value to existing solutions. “We didn’t believe there was going to be a violent eruption of conflict, but that there was much more subtle erosion of the social glue that has held communities together and enabled them to manage conflict peacefully,” said Holdaway.

Using the same methodology as the organization would overseas, they gathered data from community groups, national organizations, policymakers, politicians, civil society and business leaders. As a result they identified trends that they believed the organization’s global peacebuilding approach could help resolve domestically.

Holdaway says International Alert began the process with an “open mind” and was prepared to abandon programming in the U.K if it failed to find an evidence base, or if they discovered that it was not the best-placed organization to help.

Similarly, before Amnesty International began commissioning projects in the U.K., it made sure it was not duplicating existing efforts. It invited different organizations focused on refugees to a discussion day to scope what value it could add to existing campaigns. “You try and build strength into those existing organizations rather than taking away funding or experience,” said Couper.

The funding question

Working on domestic issues may seem like a fast-track to new funding sources, since local charities can access different grants and trust funds to those targeting causes abroad. But Holdaway says this is not the case. International Alert was unable to use its existing funding for domestic work, as money it had won for overseas development had to be spent in foreign territories. The charity did not want to build up local teams across the U.K. simply to bolster its chances of winning U.K.-aimed funds. Instead, it applied for money from European funding streams and international grantmaking foundations such as the Open Society Foundation.

“It’s a tough funding environment here,” Holdaway said of the U.K. “It’s very tough for organizations that have been established here for years, let alone organizations that are new to this.”

Amnesty International was less restricted by its revenue sources, since its funding depends on contributions from its worldwide membership and fundraising activities. It does not accept money from governments or political parties to ensure its campaigning activities are nonpartisan. “The kinds of things we do here we'll campaign [for donations] for here,” explained Couper.  

Beyond the traditional

While it remains to be seen whether other development and humanitarian organizations will follow this path, both Couper and Holdaway told Devex that there is an urgent need for peacebuilding approaches that go beyond traditional target areas for global development practitioners. Suggesting wider implications from his organization’s experience of hate crime on U.K. soil, Couper warned that “the prevailing narrative cannot be left unchallenged.”

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About the author

Gabriella jozwiak profile
Gabriella Jóźwiak@GabriellaJ

Gabriella Jóźwiak is an award-winning journalist based in London. Her work on issues and policies affecting children and young people in developing countries and the U.K. has been published in national newspapers and magazines. Having worked in-house for domestic and international development charities, Jóźwiak has a keen interest in organizational development, and has worked as a journalist in several countries across West Africa and South America.


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