Victoria Garchitorena, former managing director of the Ayala Foundation and current chief of party of U.S. Agency for International Development’s Phil-Am Fund. Garchitorena gave tips for aid executives visiting the Philippines to help in the relief, recovery and rehabilitation efforts. Photo by: George Parrilla / CC BY

Almost a month after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, humanitarian groups continue to pour into the Philippines to assist in the relief, recovery and rehabilitation efforts — which still have a long way to go.

Foreign aid continues to arrive, and executives from scores of international organizations have already set up shop either in Manila or the hardest-hit provinces of Cebu, Samar and Leyte — mainly Tacloban — to oversee operations.

According to a local expert, coming together is crucial in a situation like this.

“Disasters are a fact of life. What we have to do is mitigate the effects and save as much lives as possible,” Victoria Garchitorena, former managing director of the Ayala Foundation and current chief of party of U.S. Agency for International Development’s Phil-Am Fund, told Devex. “In situations like disasters, having a sense of community [whether local or international] can make or break people’s lives.”

Local officials and development workers on the ground admit that rehabilitation and recovery will take a long time. Housing and restoring livelihoods are just some of the priorities the government and international aid community will have to keep in mind moving forward in helping these people get back on their feet.

Dozens of international aid groups — along with their top disaster officials, country directors and other senior managers — are already in the Philippines or planning how to go — but their efforts will be in vain if all the assistance will not directly benefit the people affected. Garchitorena shared a few tips for these development decision-makers to keep in mind when taking part in the Haiyan operation.

1. In finding local partners, credibility is key.

Humanitarian groups and aid officials looking for local partners to engage in the post-disaster response need to understand the importance of finding credibility to get the worth of their money.

The Philippines is considered a very corrupt country — and more so now after a recent controversy involving lawmakers accused of embezzling huge amounts of public money precisely allocated for local aid projects. The scandal made such an impact on the citizens that the government created an online transparency portal to track all the assistance given to the relief operations.

“If you’re going to work with [nongovernmental organizations], make sure they are certified. The regulation and certification of NGOs should be very thorough … to ensure credibility,” Garchitorena explained.

NGO certification has been lax in the country, hence the rise of bogus groups that steal money from the government. To avoid this, Garchitorena said aid officials and NGO executives can look at local NGOs certified by the Philippine Council for NGO Certification.

The benefits are two-pronged: First, this will ensure credibility of the local NGO partners. Second, donations, whether in cash or in kind, will be tax-exempt. “That’s the incentive. If these local and international organizations donate, it should be either through government or a PCNC-certified NGO.”

2. Don’t be a know-it-all, be open to learning.

International aid and humanitarian groups have their own strict standards in doing development work. These templates, however, may not always be applicable to every situation. Once the local partner is chosen, be open to learn from them to ensure a more comprehensive approach in pushing for development programs.

“You have to look into the area that you will go into. Different places have different needs and dynamics, and one good way to go around this is through partnership with a credible local group,” she noted. “The role of the local partner is to be the bridge of you and the local community.”

Local groups present a thorough knowledge of the community being considered for development programs, increasing the possibility of a higher effectiveness rate. In cases where there are no local NGOs available, local community groups like parents-teacher associations of schools can be considered, with proper guidance and monitoring.

3. But don’t rely too much, self-learning is important.

In most things in life, having a good balance of one and the other almost always presents a good scenario. In the case of learning the local situation — especially in a disaster situation — relying 100 percent on the local partner is not ideal. Self-learning is also important as this gives a good form of checks and balances in the process of doing development work in the Philippines. “Educating yourself will be a huge boost,” Garchitorena said.

4. Look for NGO unions, alliances.

An excellent way of ensuring that local NGOs are truly credible is tracking them from a more elaborate umbrella organization. Some certifications can pass under the nose of the law unnoticed. Tracking prospective local partners from a bigger union that includes other well-established groups can provide an additional filter to the screening process.

“Credibility is very important in development work. Most of the money in development is a public trust and the way it is spent will affect people’s lives,” Garchitorena said. “NGOs should join national networks. They can’t blame donors for [making sure] because they have to make sure they get the most out of their money.”

Joining national networks will also prove beneficial to smaller NGOs that want to make a mark in the development community but are unlucky in winning grants because of their lack of track record, she said.

“For small NGOs, partner with bigger ones. It will give you leverage, experience and expertise the next time you do development work when you eventually ask for funding.”

5. Engage all sectors.

Development work is not just for development NGOs, government units play a huge part too.

For aid officials and NGO executives wanting to help in disaster response like in Haiyan, recognizing the importance of working with government is key. Development, after all, is a multifaceted issue that requires the efforts of everyone in the community.

“Development work is not limited to NGOs. Governments play a crucial role and learning the overall situation, including political and social, is important. It’s a little tricky but partnering with very good [local government units] are highly effective. It makes the whole effort comprehensive,” Garchitorena concluded.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.